United Airlines CEO Faults FAA as Storms Trigger More Flight Cancellations

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby faulted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for ordering flight cancellations and delays over the weekend due to severe weather. Thunderstorms and failing equipment at an FAA facility created significant delays for air travelers across the U.S. East Coast on Sunday evening as Washington and New York were forced to briefly halt most incoming flights. In a memo written to employees on Monday, the head of United Airlines blamed a shortage of FAA’s air traffic controllers for “unprecedented challenges” last weekend at its Newark hub. “We estimate that over 150,000 customers on United alone were impacted this weekend because of FAA staffing issues and their ability to manage traffic,” Kirby wrote. Kirby said that the FAA reduced arrival rates at its major hub at Newark Liberty International Airport by 40 percent and departure rates by 75 percent on Saturday, which was “almost certainly a reflection of understaffing/lower experience at the FAA.” That led to massive delays, cancellations, and “put everyone behind the eight ball when weather actually did hit on Sunday and was further compounded by FAA staffing shortages Sunday evening,” he said. Kirby said he will be meeting with the FAA and Department of Transportation “to discuss what steps FAA can take in the immediate term to prevent this from happening again this summer.” The FAA responded Tuesday, saying, “We will always collaborate with anyone seriously willing to join us to solve a problem.” Kirby noted that even though the current FAA leadership did not create the staffing problem, they still need to resolve it. “To be fair, it’s not the fault of the current FAA leadership,” he wrote, but added, “they are responsible for solving the problem they inherited.” Over the weekend, powerful storms struck several parts of the country, including in the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast where many busy hubs are located. As more than 300 severe storms ripped through the country, more than 32,000 flights were delayed on Monday, according data from flight monitoring service FlightAware. By Tuesday, more than 28,000 flights were delayed and over 2,800 flights were canceled. The FAA has admitted that it is understaffed at key facilities including one in the New York City region. It is training about 3,000 new air traffic controllers, but most of them won’t be ready anytime soon. The agency resorted to nudging airlines to reduce flights in the New York City area this summer, and it opened 169 new flight paths over the East Coast to reduce bottlenecks. Last week, the Transportation Department’s inspector general said in a report that the FAA has made only “limited efforts” to adequately staff critical air traffic control centers and lacks a plan to tackle the problem. Last week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg issued a new warning to airlines, telling them that planes that aren’t outfitted with new radio altimeters—devices that measure the height of a plane above the ground—won’t be allowed to operate in limited visibility after Saturday because of potential interference from new 5G wireless service. American, United, Southwest, Alaska, and Frontier say all of their planes have been retrofitted, but Delta Air Lines still has about 190 planes waiting to be updated because its supplier doesn’t have enough altimeters. Delta said it will schedule those planes to avoid landing where the weather might be bad to limit disruptions. Smaller airlines that operate regional flights could also be affected, as could flights operated to the United States by foreign carriers. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

United Airlines CEO Faults FAA as Storms Trigger More Flight Cancellations

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby faulted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for ordering flight cancellations and delays over the weekend due to severe weather.

Thunderstorms and failing equipment at an FAA facility created significant delays for air travelers across the U.S. East Coast on Sunday evening as Washington and New York were forced to briefly halt most incoming flights.

In a memo written to employees on Monday, the head of United Airlines blamed a shortage of FAA’s air traffic controllers for “unprecedented challenges” last weekend at its Newark hub.

“We estimate that over 150,000 customers on United alone were impacted this weekend because of FAA staffing issues and their ability to manage traffic,” Kirby wrote.

Kirby said that the FAA reduced arrival rates at its major hub at Newark Liberty International Airport by 40 percent and departure rates by 75 percent on Saturday, which was “almost certainly a reflection of understaffing/lower experience at the FAA.”

That led to massive delays, cancellations, and “put everyone behind the eight ball when weather actually did hit on Sunday and was further compounded by FAA staffing shortages Sunday evening,” he said.

Kirby said he will be meeting with the FAA and Department of Transportation “to discuss what steps FAA can take in the immediate term to prevent this from happening again this summer.”

The FAA responded Tuesday, saying, “We will always collaborate with anyone seriously willing to join us to solve a problem.”

Kirby noted that even though the current FAA leadership did not create the staffing problem, they still need to resolve it.

“To be fair, it’s not the fault of the current FAA leadership,” he wrote, but added, “they are responsible for solving the problem they inherited.”

Over the weekend, powerful storms struck several parts of the country, including in the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Northeast where many busy hubs are located. As more than 300 severe storms ripped through the country, more than 32,000 flights were delayed on Monday, according data from flight monitoring service FlightAware. By Tuesday, more than 28,000 flights were delayed and over 2,800 flights were canceled.

The FAA has admitted that it is understaffed at key facilities including one in the New York City region. It is training about 3,000 new air traffic controllers, but most of them won’t be ready anytime soon. The agency resorted to nudging airlines to reduce flights in the New York City area this summer, and it opened 169 new flight paths over the East Coast to reduce bottlenecks. Last week, the Transportation Department’s inspector general said in a report that the FAA has made only “limited efforts” to adequately staff critical air traffic control centers and lacks a plan to tackle the problem.

Last week, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg issued a new warning to airlines, telling them that planes that aren’t outfitted with new radio altimeters—devices that measure the height of a plane above the ground—won’t be allowed to operate in limited visibility after Saturday because of potential interference from new 5G wireless service.

American, United, Southwest, Alaska, and Frontier say all of their planes have been retrofitted, but Delta Air Lines still has about 190 planes waiting to be updated because its supplier doesn’t have enough altimeters. Delta said it will schedule those planes to avoid landing where the weather might be bad to limit disruptions. Smaller airlines that operate regional flights could also be affected, as could flights operated to the United States by foreign carriers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.