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Buttigieg says FAA is about 3,000 air traffic controllers short

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“We have thousands of controllers in training right now but also a number who are eligible to retire,” Buttigieg said.

He spoke as the agency began hiring on Friday – targeting 1,500 new entry-level air traffic controllers this year – and published an annual report on the agency’s ATC workforce.

That report showed the agency hired 1,026 controllers last year, just shy of its targets, acting FAA administrator Billy Nolen told Congress in a letter. The FAA also experienced more controllers leaving the job last year than it had planned, and is further short-staffed because the coronavirus pandemic “has resulted in delayed certification for most existing developmental controllers.”

Recently, Nolen told reporters that the agency’s planned 3,300 hires in the next two years will mostly replace those who are retiring. About 500 of those hires will hold positions that are currently empty.

Earlier this spring, the FAA asked airlines to dial back flights this summer in the New York metropolitan area, where a key radar facility is only 54 percent staffed. Airlines flying their planned summer schedules would cause a spike in delays due to the shortage, the FAA predicted.

But Buttigieg argued that most delays travelers experience are not the cause of air traffic controller short-staffing.

Nolen wrote in a letter to Congress that “about 5 percent of delay minutes can be attributed to FAA staff shortages.”

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