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US transportation chief calls New York air traffic staffing ‘unacceptable’

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– Air traffic control shortages in New York “unacceptable,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday, vowing the government would work to boost hiring.

On Friday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it would again extend cuts to minimum flight requirements at congested New York City-area airports through October 2024, citing staffing shortages. New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (N90) staffing is just at 54% of recommended staffing.

Under minimum flight requirements, airlines can lose their takeoff and landing slots at congested airports if they do not use them at least 80% of the time. The waiver allows airlines to not fly some flights and still retain slots.

“There clearly needs to be a swift path,” Buttigieg said at a U.S. House hearing to addressing the New York shortage. He said the air traffic control staffing levels are putting pressure on employees and impacting smooth operations.

The FAA said Friday the number of New York controllers “is still not sufficient to allow the FAA to handle normal traffic levels.” In the summer of 2022, there were 41,498 flights from New York airports in which controller staffing was a contributing factor in delays.

U.S. airlines have expressed growing frustration with air traffic staff shortages. Due to staffing shortages, the FAA previously in August extended temporary cuts to minimum flight requirements through Oct. 28 after first issuing the waivers in March following requests from Delta Air Lines (NYSE:) and United Airlines to not fly up to 10% of flights.

The FAA in August said it met its yearly goal of hiring 1,500 controllers but is still about 3,000 controllers behind staffing targets.

A government watchdog report said in June critical air traffic facilities face significant staffing challenges, posing risks to air traffic operations. At several facilities, controllers are working mandatory overtime and six-day work weeks to cover shortages.

The FAA said in August it has 10,700 certified controllers, up slightly from 10,578 in 2022, which was virtually the same as in 2021 and down 10% from 2012.

The United States has experienced several near-miss aviation incidents this year, including some that could have been catastrophic involving apparent controller mistakes, according to the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board.

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