JetBlue to cut flights to New York due to FAA staff shortage

Aircraft JetBlue Airways Corp. prepares to land at LaGuardia Airport in New York, USA on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

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Jetblue Airways is preparing to cut many weekly flights in the New York area this spring and summer in response to a shortage of air traffic controllers, a measure that will have a financial impact on the airline, CEO Robin Hayes told CNBC on Wednesday.

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration unveiled a new plan to help avoid a repeat of flight disruptions in 2022 by cutting flight requirements by up to 10% for airline takeoff and landing rights to avoid congestion in the New York and Washington, DC area. The FAA cited a lack of staff. Waivers will be valid from May 15 to September 15.

“We don’t want to cancel flights. I’m sure no airline wants to cancel flights,” Hayes told CNBC ahead of an event at the Economic Club of New York. “But if we don’t cut them, the system won’t work this summer.”

Staffing shortages and potential schedule cuts in the region highlight the challenges airlines are facing in ramping up capacity as travel demand returns after a lull due to the pandemic.

Flight cancellations and delays were elevated during peak periods in 2022, and then airlines cut schedules to make the system weaker. If the weather is bad or there are other problems, disruptions tend to cascade if airlines fill their schedules with too many flights.

Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways Corp., speaks at an Economic Club of New York event in New York, USA on Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

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Hayes said the latter measure is particularly effective for JetBlue, which is based in New York, because the vast majority of its flights take off or land in or through the city’s airspace.

“We’re staffed, we’ve already trained pilots, we’re paying for pilots, we’ve bought planes, we’re paying for gates and slots,” Hayes said. “This will have a very significant financial impact on JetBlue and our customers.”

Delta Air Lines asked the FAA to come back up to 10% of airline slots or hours of operation at the three major airports serving New York and Washington Reagan National Airport during that period. United Airlines did a similar request.

Carriers have until April 30 to request a waiver.

“This [air traffic controller] The staffing problem has been around for years,” Hayes said. The airline has yet to apply for a slot or work time waiver, but Hayes said the carrier plans to do so and notify customers as soon as possible.

On Wednesday, the FAA held a meeting with airline executives on measures to reduce congestion in the New York area. Last year, he held similar conversations about congested airspace in Florida and agreed to increase staffing to deal with the surge in traffic.

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