Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says changes needed to manage airspace “more efficiently”

Washington — After thousands of flights were delayed and canceled heading into the Fourth of July holiday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said more is being done to address issues. 

Buttigieg said recent severe weather in major travel hubs “put enormous pressure on the system” after United Airlines and JetBlue blamed the Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees air traffic in the U.S., for the disruptions. The airlines questioned why there were lengthy delays, saying the FAA has managed weather disruptions in the past. 

“I think most passengers understand that no one can control the weather, but anything that’s under the control of the airlines and anything that we can do on the FAA side, we need to continue pushing to make sure that there’s the smoothest possible experience for air passengers everywhere,” Buttigieg told “Face the Nation” on Sunday. 

The FAA in recent months has struggled to carry out its duties because of staffing issues, saying that an air traffic controller shortage could disrupt summer travel. A government audit released last month said the FAA does not have a plan to address the shortage. 

Buttigieg said Sunday the FAA is hiring 1,500 new air traffic controllers this year and another 1,800 in 2024, as well as working on staffing models to better address the issues. But he said staffing issues account for less than 10% of delays, although he added that he would prefer “that number is zero.” 

“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. “But there are things we can do to manage it more efficiently.” 

He said the FAA is using new technology to open more-direct routes “which means less flight time and ultimately can contribute to less congestion.” 

Buttigieg cited commercial space launches in Florida as another factor in flight delays. 

“We’ve been engaging the space industry to try to keep those launch windows clear of when there is the most traffic,” he said. “So whether we’re talking about day-to-day ops and tactics, or whether we’re talking about the bigger picture of staffing air traffic control for the future, we’re moving very aggressively on that.” 

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