Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg downplayed his department’s responsibility in the recurring spates of flight delays across the country.
Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Buttigieg said severe weather was the key cause of recurring clusters of flight problems for thousands since January.
“Well, if you look at the overall picture, we’ve seen a lot of improvements, but we had a hard few days with severe weather at the beginning of the week, and that definitely put enormous pressure on the system,” he said.
“Now the good news is, on Friday we saw, according to TSA, a record number of airline passengers, probably the most ever in America, and we saw those cancellation rates stay low,” Buttigieg sasid. “Right now we’re below 2%. But they really shot up at the first part of the week, largely because of severe weather hitting some of our key hubs.”
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Airline officials have consistently pointed to the Federal Aviation Administration as a factor in the flight congestion.
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The president of Jet Blue and the CEO of United Airlines have both stated that failures in air traffic control infrastructure are responsible for the decline in airline efficiency.
Buttigieg pushed back on airline executives placing the blame on the FAA, saying that “less than 10% of the delay minutes in the system” are caused by air traffic controlling shortages.
“Well, first of all, let me be very clear, that even according to the industry’s own data, air traffic control staffing issues account for less than 10% of the delay minutes in the system, but, I would rather that number be zero,” the transportation secretary said. “So even though this isn’t the number one cause or even the number two cause of flight disruptions, it is something that is very important to tackle, and we’re doing exactly that.”
Buttigieg said the FAA is taking action to recruit more staff in the next few years to better handle cumbersome spikes in air travel.
“We’re hiring 1,500 new air traffic controllers this year. Our plan is to hire another 1,800 traffic controllers next year,” Buttigieg said. “We’re also working on staffing models that can better address the needs on the ground, and cooperating where possible and where appropriate with airlines on things that can make better use of the same national airspace.”
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