LONDON – The US Federal Aviation Administration stated on Wednesday that it will pull all stops if needed to keep key air traffic control centers well equipped ahead of a busy summer travel season.
US FAA has also promised to add more air traffic controllers and improve infrastructure to assure the flow of air traffic in Florida, which according to airlines has become a ‘weak link in the national airspace’.
As Federal Aviation Administration held a meeting with representatives from US airlines over two days to understand concerns and areas of improvement for operational readiness, the airlines expressed their concerns about improving traffic trends in the state of Florida and the lack of air traffic infrastructure from a human resource point of view which Is creating a ‘weak-link’ for operational purposes.
The upward trend of air traffic was observed during the pandemic in other states in the United States, and airlines are adding a substantial number of flights to Florida over the upcoming summer season.
Which in view of many airlines will create massive disruptions and could ripple far beyond Florida’s borders.
Florida and the flying nightmare
During peak and much of pandemic season, US travelers experienced phenomenal delay-free flights as air traffic plummeted due to a series of lockdowns and travel restrictions.
But as the United States lifted its lockdown and domestic travel was permitted, many people looked at Florida as one of their go-to destinations.
With leisure travel surging, the airspace over Florida started observing traffic chaos and magnitudes of cancellations.
Florida with its complex aviation activities with private jets, spacecraft launches, and severe weather has always been an area of concern for airspace and air traffic management.
But increasing delays has always been a challenging situation for the aviation systems that have faced sudden change with pandemic-related issues like shortage of airline employees and federal air traffic controllers for more than two years.
John Hansman, an Aerospace professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has assessed an area of concern with a focus on the air traffic systems being out of practice in responding to peaks of demand:
“I wouldn’t be surprised if, as traffic levels come up and also as we move into the convective season in other parts of the country, you might see a similar increase in delays in other regions.”
The data produced by the FAA Jacksonville center, which monitors airspace over North Florida with flight crossing and transiting, has pointed out that the area has seen a significant rise in traffic over this year than any such facility in the United States.
Total flight handling by all 22 FAA air traffic centers was down by 7% in the first quarter of 2022 as compared to 2019 levels within the same quarter, however, Jacksonville has witnessed a more than a 5% increase in its traffic.
Jacksonville has reported 8,935 delays which lasted a cumulative of 543,000 minutes in the month of March 2022 alone.
This contributes to the third-highest number of delays at any of the 22 FAA centers since 2007 and most since the start of the pandemic state FAA data.
At Palm Beach International Airport, charter operations and private flights are contributing to a sudden increase in flight traffic.
The Palm Beach International Airport alone has seen private and charter flights jumping to 65% in March 2022 closing at 12,239 aircraft movements as compared to that of 7,412 in 2019.
Peter Maestrales, Chief Executive Officer at Airstream Jets Inc. stated that:
“Private jet traffic picked up during the pandemic as consumers avoided packed commercial jets. Palm Beach was typically a pretty quiet airport. Now it’s unbelievable the departure delays, and just the number of aircraft parked on the tarmac out there.”
But air traffic controllers are dealing with another set of issues around the region with thunderstorms, military flight activities and spacecraft launches are mounting stress on the controllers.
As per the regulation, FAA is required to close hundreds of miles of airspace during spacecraft launch missions from the Cape Canaveral facility, where there have been more than 17 launch activities reported this year, which increases delays, airspace adjustment, and flight route diversion.
The FAA in their email statement stated that “The combination of these factors leaves little margin for the system to absorb flight delays.”
The FAA has also said that they will implement more alternative routes with a combination of lower altitude route trajectories, which would certainly increase fuel burn, but it does keep aircraft moving after the disruption.
The FAA has also stated that it will be developing a plan for responding to snarls like the one implemented at New York City area airports.