Consumers Have No Time For Flight Delays

Zack Christenson Research Fellow, American Consumer Institute
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It’s that time of the year, when millions of Americans head home or to visit family for the holidays, taking to the skies and roads to fight traffic and congestion in the name of holiday spirit. Over 24 million people are expected to fly over the Thanksgiving holiday, up 1.5 percent from last year. With all of these people taking to the skies, air traffic congestion and delays will most likely be commonplace over the next weeks, at a point in history where flight delays are already at a 20-year high.

Most remember the air traffic controller strike in the 1980s and the swift action of President Reagan to end the strike by firing the workers. It was understood then that the economy and security of the United States depended on a stable, well-trained, dependable corps of air traffic controllers in order to make one of our most precious industries safe and reliable.

It’s more than just the pilots and flight attendants that make the planes fly — there are thousands of people involved in making sure flights arrive safe and on time. Now, a new problem similar to the one in the 1980s threatens to not only hamper the efficiency of air travel, but could be hurting the safety of passengers as well.

Many of the air traffic controllers hired in the 80s are now close to retiring, meaning many more air traffic controllers need to be hired. It’s estimated that nearly 15,000 controllers will retire over the next 10 years, with 11,000 positions needing to be filled by 2019. In the face of this need, the FAA has been doing something very peculiar — they’ve been lobbying to do away with their current air traffic controller training program. In its place, they’d like a new, untested training program that would hire new recruits under a newly revised hiring program.

The new hiring program relaxes requirements, hiring people off the street with little to no education or aviation experience. ABC reported that these new hiring practices ignore those with higher qualifications, such as graduates from qualified flight schools and even veterans with military flight experience – all in favor of a less experienced pool of candidates.

These new hiring practices and the failure to hire air traffic controllers fast enough shows mismanagement and lack of innovation by the FAA, also demonstrated by their constant budget overruns and failure to implement improvements to current hiring and training processes.

According to the Office of the Inspector General, the FAA has come up with over 40 advancements to improve internal programs, yet have failed to implement a single one. With a recent report showing that soon every day at the airport could soon look like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, it’s important that the FAA keep what’s working in place, like the air traffic controller training program, and start to implement processes that reduce delays and cancelations.

Disruptions to air travel can have an effect on delays that lasts days, as we see with the fire at Chicago’s O’Hare last month. These delays can have devastating effects on consumers, both through the inconvenience of delayed travel and the impact it can have on the economy. The implications of the FAA’s actions affect delays, cancelations, and even flight safety.

The importance of safe and efficient air travel can’t be overstated.

Zack Christenson writes for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization.  For more information, visitwww.theamericanconsumer.org