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Airlines get more spending back, staff fix failing FAA system

DALLAS — Airline executives were outraged last year when government officials led by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg accused the airline of abusing customers, causing thousands of flight cancellations.

The shoes are on the other side after the Federal Aviation Administration temporarily halted flights earlier this week, but airline leaders are taking a different tack.

They have avoided harsh words and marks. Instead, they are asking Congress and the Biden administration to give the FAA more staff and more funding to upgrade its systems.

“The FAA is doing the best they can, but we need to stand by the FAA,” Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said Friday.

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom praised the FAA for “requesting a timeout” Wednesday morning, while fixing systems that provide safety and other information to pilots and airline dispatchers. , temporarily banned flights from taking off across the country.

“We need an investment,” Isom told CNBC. “It’s going to be billions of dollars and it won’t happen overnight.”

Of course, airline executives have an interest in making sure the FAA works. Agencies employ air traffic controllers who manage the country’s airspace and must navigate passenger and cargo planes, small private planes, helicopters and drones.

Bastian said the FAA is understaffed, resulting in long flight times and difficulty operating in congested areas of the Northeast and Florida.

“There is no question that investments in modernized air traffic control systems will drive tremendous amounts of efficiency and growth, which means better service for the American public,” he said. told the group.

Airline management must want to stay in the favor of the bureaucrats who regulate them. Isom went all out to praise his Buttigieg’s leadership ability to lead the FAA’s parent organization.

For years, airlines have asked the FAA to modernize their air traffic control systems. They argue that a faster and more complete deployment of the so-called NextGen program to modernize the nation’s airspace system will benefit travelers by making flights more efficient and reliable. are doing.

With Congress considering legislation to govern the FAA over the next five years, FAA technology is sure to be a big issue this year. But the first reaction from Capitol Hill was to ask Buttigieg for an answer to this week’s debacle.

“The FAA was fully aware of the problems facing the NOTAM system, which failed this week,” said more than 120 members of Congress in a letter to Buttigieg late Friday. NOTAM stands for Notice to Air Mission.

In a letter signed by 71 Republicans and 51 Democrats, Congress directed the FAA to modernize the NOTAM system in 2018, and the FAA would seek to replace the “vintage hardware” that supports it. requested funds.

“Coupled with this week’s failures, it raises serious questions about how long these problems have existed and what is needed to prevent such problems from happening again,” lawmakers said. “I repeat, this is completely unacceptable.”

Buttigieg’s office declined to comment on the letter, but said in a statement that the NOTAM system had been operating normally since Wednesday and that there had been no unusual flight delays or cancellations.

Among those who signed the letter were Republican Rep. Sam Graves, the new chairman of the House Transportation Committee, and Rep. Rick Larsen, the Democratic head of the committee.

Earlier this week, Graves said the failure of the FAA alert system, including the lack of permanent administrators since the last administrator resigned in March 2021, has resulted in “empty desks and empty offices at the FAA.” suggested that it was related to the number of

Graves has not commented on FAA funding levels.

Larsen said in an interview earlier this week that he is optimistic that Democrats and Republicans can set aside partisan differences and help the FAA improve its technology.

“This was a huge disruption for travelers and not worth it,” he said.

On the Senate side of the Capitol, Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell said her Commerce Commission would investigate the blackout. She also promised to investigate airline groundings like the one that hit the Southwest last month.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Airlines get more spending back, staff fix failing FAA system

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