JetBlue to reduce flights to New York due to FAA staff shortages

A JetBlue Airways Corp. prepares to land at LaGuardia Airport in New York, U.S. on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

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Jet Blue Airways is preparing to cut dozens of weekly flights in the New York area this spring and summer in response to a shortage of air traffic controllers, a move 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 the 2022 flight disruptions, reducing flight requirements by up to 10% for airline takeoff and landing rights in order to to avoid congestion in the New York and Washington, DC area The FAA cited its understaffing. The exemptions will last from May 15 to September 15.

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

Staff shortages and potential schedule reductions in the region highlight the difficulties airlines are facing in increasing capacity as travel demand returns following a pandemic lull.

Flight cancellations and delays spiked during peak 2022 periods, and airlines then cut their schedules to give more slack to the system. If the weather is bad or there are other challenges, disruptions tend to run wild if airlines have packed their schedules with too many flights.

Robin Hayes, CEO of JetBlue Airways Corp., speaks during an Economic Club of New York event in New York, U.S., Wednesday, March 29, 2023.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Hayes said the latest measure has a particularly big impact on JetBlue, which is based in New York, because the vast majority of its flights take off or land in the city or transit through its airspace.

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

Delta Airlines asked the FAA to return up to 10% of the airline’s slots or operating time at the three major airports serving New York City and at Washington Reagan National Airport for the period. United Airlines made a similar request.

Carriers have until April 30 to apply for the waiver.

“This staffing issue (of air traffic controllers) has been around for years,” Hayes said. The airline has not yet applied for a slot or operating 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. He had similar conversations last year about busy airspace in Florida and agreed to beef up staff to deal with increased traffic there.

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