The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released a statement by its Director General, Willie Walsh, criticising the performance of the United States and Canadian air traffic control (ATC) organisations.

“Over the past 12-18 months airlines have responded to the very strong post-pandemic travel demand by adding tens of thousands of employees to their workforces. US passenger airline employment is now at its highest level in over two decades, for example. In contrast, ATC staff shortages in North America continue to produce unacceptable delays and disruptions for the traveling public on both sides of the border,” Walsh said.

“The recent report by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) Office of the Inspector General makes clear that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has allowed the controller workforce to shrink to the point where it is challenged to maintain continuity of operations at the country’s most critical air traffic control facilities.

“In fact, 77% of these vital facilities are staffed below the Agency’s 85% threshold. The situations in New York Terminal Radar Approach Control and Miami Tower are extreme at 54% and 66%, respectively.”

‘Poor ATC performance’

He added: “Earlier this year, airlines reduced their schedules by up to 10% at New York area airports at the request of the FAA which had acknowledged that it could not accommodate the current level of operations there with the existing controller workforce.

“Poor ATC performance comes on top of the FAA and DOT requiring airlines to invest over $630 million to upgrade or replace fully certified onboard avionics equipment on thousands of aircraft to mitigate the risks of 5G rollout near airports. This is unique to the US. The 5G rollout in other parts of the world has not required anything like this of airlines.

“This double whammy of poor planning is exceptionally disappointing. While the administration has well developed plans for new passenger rights regulations to penalise airlines for delays even if the root causes are beyond the industry’s control, a fix for controller shortages that would actually reduce delays is far too long in coming. As a first step, it is long past time for the appointment of a permanent FAA Administrator equipped to show strong leadership in devising a plan to rapidly rebuild the controller workforce.”
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