DOT will audit FAA staffing issues after Southwest Airlines chaos

The federal Department of Transportation inspector general will audit hiring and staffing challenges at the Federal Aviation Administration after Southwest Airlines blamed mass cancellations over the weekend due to a lack of air traffic controllers.

The Assistant Inspector General for Aviation Audits, Matthew Hampton, issued a memo announcing the audit on Tuesday, in which he said training to fully maintain air traffic control and new hiring amid the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Will “assist in the efforts of the FAA” to keep

“Since the pandemic began, controllers at several air traffic control facilities have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to the partial closure of towers and radar control facilities and staffing and training operations,” the memo said. has been affected.” “Furthermore, with veteran controllers leaving for a variety of reasons, including retirement, and increased training demands, the FAA is faced with the challenge of ensuring that it has the required number of controllers.”

The memo states that the current staffing challenges were documented in previous IG reports in 2012 and 2016. A 2016 audit found that the FAA “has not yet established an effective process for balancing training requirements with pending retirements.”

A Southwest Airlines jet sits at a gate at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida.
Matthew Hampton, assistant inspector general for aviation audits, insists that controlling staff testing positive for COVID-19 is causing problems.
Reuters/Joe Captain

Southwest Airlines blamed thousands of canceled flights on a lack of air traffic staff, but the FAA has denied any reduction since Friday, when it acknowledged that there were “a few hours” of delays due to staffing issues.

Arthur Wheaton, an airline industry expert at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said the US DOT audit was a long time coming.

“Our air traffic control system is horribly out of date. They haven’t really invested in that system in decades,” Wheaton said. “There are problems with our skies – there are too many planes and not enough computer capability to route them for 40 years … it makes it more dangerous and more difficult to manage.”

Southwest, its union and the FAA have all denied any connection between the weekend chaos and President Biden’s upcoming COVID-19 vaccine requirement for airline employees.

The airline’s CEO told CNBC on Tuesday that his airline “was significantly back on Friday.”

“When you get behind, it takes days to catch up,” said CEO Gary Kelly.

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