LONDON – For the United States, the Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations are typically marked across the nation with fireworks displays, parades and concerts.
This year, just as Europe and the rest of the world are struggling with travel woes as airlines and airports battle to manage burgeoning travel demand after a two-year dormancy period, the US has similarly faced chaos at the airport terminal.
Highest number of delays & cancellations worldwide
Already experiencing rounds of flight delays and cancellations across the past couple of months, some of the major US carriers were listed amongst the highest worldwide for delayed and cancelled scheduled flights.
According to Flight Aware, both Delta Airlines (DAL) and American Airlines (AAL) were placed in the top 10 carriers for flight disruption.
The Independence Day celebrations are naturally placing an extra layer of strain on the air travel sector, with hundreds of delays and cancellations already recorded.
The Memorial Day weekend in May this year saw the cancellation of thousands of flights across the US, with Delta Airlines bearing the brunt of the damage.
Over 20,000 flights have been cancelled in the period since the May Memorial Day weekend.
Passenger numbers at pre-pandemic levels
Perhaps the clearest indicator of the rebound in travel demand, and the attendant pressure that it is placing on airlines and airports is found in the record passenger numbers processed by the US Transport Security Administration across the Independence Day holiday weekend.
Lisa Farbstein, TSA Spokesperson tweeted that almost two and a half million passengers had been processed through airport security checkpoints on Friday.
This number is the highest since February 2020, leading Ms Farbstein to declare that the TSA was back to pre-pandemic volume.
Flight Aware Misery Map
According to the Flight Aware ‘Misery Map’, as of the early hours of the morning of 4 July US EST, the delays and cancellations still persist, with Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), New York John F Kennedy Airport (JFK), and Chicago Midway Airport (MDW) currently topping the list.
Pilot shortage in the US aviation sector
Like many other countries, general staff shortages have dogged the US air transport sector in the post-pandemic re-opening phase, causing operators to limit and cut thousands of flights to date.
For the US, a critical shortage of pilots and flight crew has increased the problem.
According to the US Bureau of Statistics, the industry will need to recruit more than 14,000 airline and commercial pilots each year over the next decade to make up for the shortfall in numbers.
It seems that a root cause of the problem is the fact that many pilots opted to take early retirement through the pandemic lull period, and not enough new pilots have been trained to replace them.
Engineering staff have also suffered declining numbers over the pandemic era.
The trend towards lower experience levels in both aircrew and maintenance/engineering staff is perhaps the most concerning issue here.
All in all, the short-term future will prove something of a rocky road for air operators and air travellers.