FAA Blunders: The Real Reason Behind NYC’s Increased Airfares and Flight Delays

Passengers have faced delays and cancellations because the FAA hasn’t had enough air traffic controllers. The government has asked airlines to reduce flying in and out of New York airports, because that’s where staffing problems were most acute.

  • That keeps airfares high by limiting supply
  • And it keeps new competitors out

While the FAA’s air traffic organization has made progress on staffing in much of the country, the problem remains greatest in New York. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The FAA doesn’t pay enough of a premium to work in New York, and transfers can take a year anyway.

  2. The facility rejects over two-thirds of new controllers, which preserves overtime.

Reportedly the N90 facility spends 2.5 times as much on overtime as the number two facility, with overtime costs greater than Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and Southern California combined despite fewer flights per controller, and staffing is done independent of demand, overscheduling during the week to get overtime over the weekend and overstaffing Islip to keep everything else understaffed. (Islip is 3 times as expensive per flight as other area airports.)

The FAA finally made progress on a solution they’ve been pushing for years: move Newark approach-control to the Philadelphia facility. But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had been blocking this on behalf of the air traffic controllers union.

The controllers union reached an agreement with the FAA on this – “[A]n initial 15 percent incentive bonus and a $75,000 payout for those who moved to Philadelphia permanently” but the agency raised this to $100,000 and included temporary reassignments – freeing up the workload at New York TRACON, so that they will no longer be as understaffed.

Unfortunately, 17 controllers are balking and Senator Schumer is backing them against the entire New York community that suffers from flight delays, reduced schedules, and higher airfares as a result.

The FAA wants 17 controllers to work out of Philadelphia because they bring Newark airspace experience and Philadelphia controllers won’t have to learn it from scratch. But they don’t want to move over as planned on July 28.

In a blistering letter sent to the Federal Aviation Administration last week, a group of New York lawmakers, including Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat and the majority leader, demanded that the agency abandon plans to force the employees’ relocation this summer.

The move places undue hardship on those workers, legislators argued. The “forced reassignments” by the F.A.A., Mr. Schumer and his colleagues wrote, are “both confusing and outrageous.” The controllers say their family lives would be disrupted, citing new marriages, disabled children and elderly parents they care for.

Of course, remote towers would be another solution. The FAA wants to reduce the workload out of Long Island so they aren’t understaffed, while they could just as easily move the work to a tower in another building. They aren’t going to see the airfield either way, and it’s no longer necessary to do so. New York TRACON is in a windowless building to begin with.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Why do they not wish to move ? Perhaps they have valid reasons .

    Perhaps personal reasons such as seriously ill family members who need their consistent medical care with established physicians and hospitals ? Difficulty in commuting back home to address these issues . Perhaps they live in Connecticut , for example .

    Government employees are civilians and ought not be forced into moving when the managers are not forced into doing so .

  2. The senator is from Brooklyn I think his flights on Mondays need to be delayed. Better canceled

  3. as soon as you mentioned Schumer, it should have been obvious that politics and not rationality is the reason the FAA underperforms and is hamstrung from doing what is logical.

    Consumers pay the price and, among airlines, United pays the highest price because the ATC switch will help better staff EWR ATC.
    Suppose that UA will tell Schumer to butt out and let the FAA do what benefits UA? doubt it

  4. Senator Schumer’s interfearence in how the FAA wants to operate in NY is a really good reason why he needs to become the Senate Minority Leader next January. And besides, a Republican controlled Senate with a reelected Biden would be a strong check and balance, a good thing.

  5. I’ll just point out that forced transfers are what the inspired the Chicago ATC tower fire a decade ago.

    I don’t really “get it” but then I’m not locked into a single employer for my entire career. In my field, job hopping is how you get raises.

  6. @TimDunn … Civil servants are Civilians . ( duh .) Airlines cannot dictate to civil servants .

    The airlines themselves have ruined once-pleasant air transportation , with their greedy airfares , extra fees , carry-on suitcases , poor service , and overcrowding into smaller airplanes .

    The air controllers are the last vestige of sanity in air transportation .

    Reagan’s defect was he never understood their importance .

  7. Alert,
    not sure where or how your rant fits in but the government controls the FAA. Airlines have no choice but to pay the price for whatever services the FAA – whose budget is set by Congress – says is necessary.
    Reagan was 45 years ago.
    Congress and solely Congress is responsible for the state of the FAA today.

  8. The GOP starting with Reagan and going forward has been on a mission to ruin the FAA. Congress has not done the job–do not blame the workers. How many on this forum have spent a day at an air traffic control center.? I have and do not work there. NAV Canada is private
    and has a much higher cost structure than in the United States.

  9. @Tim Dunn … Please have a little empathy with the ATC employees . They give their all .

  10. nobody is underestimating what ATC personnel face.
    but their future and everything about their job lies w/ Congress.
    Why do you think they went to Schumer?
    …which simply means Congress critters bear responsibility for whatever is wrong w/the FAA, not airlines and not customers.

  11. No! No! Say it ain’t so, Lord. @Gary hasn’t discovered AI image generation? Please save us.

    Moving right along without the benefit of AI.. all this is the not-so-hidden cost of DEI initiatives.
    Government will never solve this problem, so my conclusion is..privatize it. Privatization hasn’t turned out to be a faultless solution overseas, but it can’t get much worse, surely?

    As it is, it isn’t going to be long before this insistence on “levelling up” to use an aweful British expression results in the loss of hundreds of lives. We’ve been lucky so far.

  12. The core issue here is the Biden & Co., presumably Butteigeig demanded that over 1000 FAA Controller candidates be removed from the list – AFTER they had passed all exams and requirements to become ATC controller. These candidates were literally hired awaiting training sessions to open when this insane decision was made.

    Why? Because none of them checked the DEI boxes that Biden and Petey boy wanted.

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