New York airports hit by delays after FAA staffing shortage

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People walk around terminal one at JFK airport after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) temporarily halted flights arriving at New York City airports due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said late Monday air traffic was returning to normal after earlier warning that passengers at New York City-area airports could see significant delays due to air traffic control staffing issues.

The FAA had said departure and arrival delays could “approach two hours” at John F. Kennedy (JFK), New York LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports, but later announced that New York City airspace had additional staffing “allowing us to cancel the ground delays.” The FAA also earlier issued a ground stop at LaGuardia that was lifted.

FlightAware, a flight tracking website, said about 850 total flights at the three airports were delayed Monday, more than 20% of flights at each airport.

A person briefed on the matter said the staffing issue was related to sick leave. The New York City area has the most congested airspace in the United States.

U.S. airlines have blamed a significant part of the summer travel disruptions, which have impacted tens of thousands of flights, on a lack of air traffic control staffing. In June, an airline trade group said FAA staffing issues were “crippling” East Coast traffic.

Rich Santa, who heads the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said in July the FAA needs to do a better job of ensuring adequate staffing to oversee national airspace.

Santa said “unfortunately, FAA staffing is not keeping up with attrition.”

Acting FAA Administrator Billy Nolen told Reuters in July the FAA was “on track to hire 1,000 controllers this year.” For 1,500 open positions, the FAA accepted 57,956 applications for review.

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Air traffic controllers work in control towers, approach control facilities, or route centers, and are essential for coordinating aircraft traffic between the nation’s airports.

The FAA said last month “airlines’ data show that the vast majority of delays are not due to air traffic controller staffing.”

On Friday, the FAA gave Delta Air Lines permission to temporarily cancel flights at JFK, LaGuardia and Reagan National in Washington after the airline cited issues New York airport construction, crew sick time, severe weather and air traffic control delays and cancellations.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sam Holmes and Stephen Coates)