The U.S. has a shortage of 3,000 air traffic controllers, a problem that already is having a big impact on flights and airport operations, especially during bad weather, and is likely to get worse before it can get better.
According to a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) report released in June 2023, there were 11,753 certified professional air traffic controllers in the U.S. in 2012, but by 2020 that number had fallen to 10,228. Numbers have rebounded somewhat in the past few years but are still far short of staffing levels a decade ago. In 2022, there were just 10,578 controllers.
In May, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CNN that “air traffic control in the United States is understaffed by about 3,000 positions,” falling short of an optimal level of around 14,500 controllers. “We have thousands of controllers in training right now but also a number who are eligible to retire,’ Buttigieg said.
Need for New Air Traffic Controllers
At this week’s U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Aerospace Summit in Washington, Airlines for America head Nick Calio said that FAA’s pace of training and hiring new controllers needs to pick up speed. ”It will take five to seven years [of hiring] to break even if all goes well,” he told reporters. “Do we need five to seven years of further disruption on a daily basis? I don’t think so.”
In response to the problem, this summer, airlines asked the FAA to cut back on flight levels at New York area airports, where staffing problems have been especially acute and said they would likely have to do so again next year.
Calio suggested that the FAA allow schools that offer courses on air traffic control to be permitted to administer the FAA’s certification test to speed up the process. Vaughn College, located adjacent to LaGuardia Airport in New York City, is one example of an aviation school that could potentially offer such testing as well.