Add air controller staffing shortages to record of potential delays as summer season journey season begins

As vacationers head to the airport for the vacation weekend, they’ll look ahead to assembly many, many fellow vacationers — Denver Worldwide Airport expects a 9.4% enhance from final Memorial Day. 

Maybe much less welcome are the possibility of delays and cancellations resulting from climate, technical points and circumstances each inside and out of doors of airways’ management are inevitable.

However there’s one thing newish to look at for: Delays attributed to a scarcity of air site visitors controllers.

On Sunday, the Federal Aviation Administration “briefly paused departures from sure airports to Denver Worldwide Airport” and cited “controller staffing” because the trigger, in line with an FAA assertion. Solely arrivals to DIA have been affected. Regular operations resumed at 9 a.m., after about an hour.

Whereas non-weather-related floor delays are much less frequent, the air controller staffing state of affairs might find yourself impacting summer season journey. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg stated this week that the FAA remains to be making an attempt to catch up after a protracted pause on hiring and coaching in the course of the pandemic. 

A girl seems to be at flight delays and cancellations. Scenes at Denver Worldwide Airport in Denver, Colorado, on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023.
Picture StevePeterson.picture

“COVID blew a gap in our coaching pipeline, which we’re nonetheless working to recuperate from though we’ve made nice progress,” Buttigieg stated Tuesday at a information convention.  

Within the first yr of the pandemic, the FAA stated it shut down its coaching academy for 4 months and paused coaching elsewhere for eight months due to COVID-19 security precautions. That left a big hole in hiring and coaching new air site visitors controllers and it’s one which seems to be falling additional behind.

In accordance with Carmen Reale, a retired air site visitors controller and now adjunct professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, it might take 9 months to 4 years to get again on monitor as a result of not solely should new staff be educated, however trainers must be educated.

“There’s an enormous hole between those which are totally certified and those that can solely work in sure positions. And due to that, a trainee that’s certified in a single or two positions, you’re form of caught there as a result of there’s not sufficient different controllers to coach you,” stated Reale, who teaches potential pupil pilots concerning the air site visitors management system. “It’s simply one thing we now have to dwell with till we get extra new controllers which are certified.”

The federal Air Site visitors Group plans to rent 1,500 air controllers this yr and one other 1,800 subsequent yr. However in a Could 5 letter to Congress, FAA Appearing Administrator Billy Nolen stated proposed Congressional spending cuts to the company’s funds “would wreak havoc on summer season air journey.”

Individuals course of by way of safety at Denver Worldwide Airport on April 27, 2022. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Solar)

“1000’s of FAA staff could be furloughed from their security duties, and the substitute of the pc spine that transfers information between air site visitors services could be unacceptably delayed. Moreover, these cuts would hobble much-needed air site visitors  modernization work and cease the switch to a brand new (notification) system,” Nolen stated within the letter.

The present FAA funding by way of reauthorization by Congress is ready to run out Oct. 1. 

A spokesman for the Nationwide Air Site visitors Controllers Affiliation stated the labor union had no touch upon the state of affairs.  

The present scarcity has been within the making for the previous seven to eight years, stated Michael McCormick, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical College, one of many nation’s high faculties for aviation and aerospace.  He stated the pandemic exacerbated the scarcity however there have additionally been previous “authorities shutdowns, sequestration and lapses in FAA authorization.”

“Any person who didn’t get employed 5 years in the past is impacting the staffing ranges as we speak,” McCormick stated. “While you add on high of that the pandemic, for an prolonged time frame — and possibly the longest time frame in fashionable air site visitors historical past — they needed to droop hiring and coaching. In order that meant in 2020 and into 2021, there was no hiring of air site visitors controllers. That left a shortfall in licensed air site visitors controllers throughout the nation.”

The FAA takes purposes for potential hires annually. The 2023 window has closed however job seekers can signal as much as be notified when the following spherical begins at Air site visitors management specialists make an annual median wage of $127,805, in line with the FAA. 

The hiring course of takes about one yr whereas coaching and getting licensed might be two to 4 years, McCormick stated.

The FAA didn’t simply put hiring in turbo mode, he added. The company additionally allowed some airways serving New York Metropolis-area airports to scale back their schedules by 10% for the remainder of the summer season however nonetheless retain the arrival and departure slots after the height summer season journey season. Which means bigger aircraft sizes and fewer flight choices for customers.

“By bringing site visitors demand down by 10%, the FAA is planning to have the flexibility to deal with the diminished demand with the diminished staffing ranges,” McCormick stated. “That’s definitely higher than having cancellations of flights. It’s additionally higher for the airways in that they’ll improve … their yield, or the amount of cash they make on every particular person flight.”

United Airways, which has a hub in Denver, is taking the FAA up on its supply and lowering the day by day frequency of its flights to the Newark, LaGuardia and Washington Reagan airports, stated Russell Carlton, a spokesman for the airline. 

An United Airways plane is pushed away from the gate on April 27, 2022 at Denver Worldwide Airport. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Solar)

“In lots of circumstances, we’ll change the frequencies with bigger plane to reduce the disruption to our clients’ journey plans,” he stated in an electronic mail. “In truth, even taking into consideration the small reductions, United will fly 10% extra seats out of those airports than we did in summer season 2019.”

Airways would return to their previous schedules after the summer season however there may be an influence on vacationers, McCormick stated.

“The draw back for the passengers is that they’re going to have much less flights and due to this fact, much less flexibility in planning their journey,” he stated. “This can be a short-term repair to a long run downside. A long run resolution goes to be hiring and coaching air site visitors controllers.” 

What to anticipate at DIA

Hopefully this weekend received’t be a repeat of final Memorial Day. Final yr, a whole bunch of flights have been canceled or delayed at airports nationwide resulting from unhealthy climate but additionally “air site visitors management actions,” reported The Related Press. Different components blamed have been pilot shortages and vendor staffing.

Thus far, air controller staffing and floor delays haven’t impacted the Denver airport that a lot, stated Jose Salas, a DIA spokesman. 

“Delays might be surprising and happen for a wide range of causes together with plane upkeep, climate, and on this case staffing,” Salas stated in an electronic mail. “When delays happen, it’s our function as an airport to help our passengers and assist preserve environment friendly operations by way of safety checkpoints, the airfield and customs.”

Denver Worldwide Airport staff load cargo packages into the United Airways plane on April 27, 2022. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Solar)

He stated that DIA expects 400,000 passengers to move by way of the airport’s TSA checkpoints between Thursday and Tuesday, with Thursday being the busiest. That’s increased than final yr.

“Our greatest tip for passengers this vacation is to verify their flight standing with their airline upfront. It’s at all times higher to see your flight is delayed earlier than heading to DEN,” Salas stated.

He additionally recommends checking the airport’s safety verify wait instances at And if you’ll want to park, verify real-time parking availability at

Journey suggestions for summer season airline journey:  

  • Ebook the primary flight of the day to keep away from delays and cancellations of earlier flights.
  • Ebook Saturday nights or Sunday mornings, when there’s normally fewer scheduled flights and fewer likelihood of lengthy waits at safety.
  • Sunday and late evening journey have higher probabilities of a full air site visitors management crew as a result of they’re paid a premium for these shifts, stated Reale, the retired air site visitors controller.
  • Arrive a minimum of two hours earlier than boarding time for home flights and three hours for worldwide flights.
  • Examine in on-line forward of time and ensure the flight is on time.
  • At Denver Worldwide Airport:
    • Examine real-time parking availability at
    • Examine real-time TSA safety wait instances and determine shortest traces at
    • Name airport customer support at 720-730-IFLY (4359) or textual content 720-902-9351, or click on the “Chat” button on to attach with a DIA agent between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. day by day.
  • At Colorado Springs Airport:
    • Arrive 90 minutes earlier than departure on busier days, like a vacation weekend. 
    • Examine the TSA tips to keep away from delays, and backing up the road

Originally posted 2023-05-25 09:55:00.