JetBlue has revealed plans to trim many flights in and out of its New York City airports from its spring and summer schedule in response to a shortage of air traffic control staff.
The airline’s CEO, Robin Hayes, made the announcement in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday. Hayes claims the airline has been forced to take action due to significant staff shortages in the area and admitted that it would have substantial financial implications for the company and cause disruption to its passengers over the coming months.
“We don’t want to pull down flights,” said Hayes. “I’m sure no airline wants to pull down flights. But if we don’t cut them, the system is not going to be workable this summer.”
The decision to cut flights comes just a week after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) unveiled its plans to reduce flight delays and cancelations at busy East Coast airports this summer. The FAA hopes to avoid a repeat of last summer, which saw widespread flight disruption due to resurging passenger demand following years of pandemic restrictions. However, it also said that delays at New York airports could increase by almost 50% this summer without mitigations.
“For summer 2023, the FAA expects increased delays in the New York region over summer 2022,” said the FAA in a statement. “Specifically, ATO modeling indicates operations at the New York airports is projected to increase by seven percent, which FAA projects will result in overall delays increasing by 45 percent.”
Under the FAA’s proposals, airlines will be given the option to return up to 10% of their flight slots at four major airports—New York’s John F. Kennedy International (JFK), Newark Liberty International (EWR), LaGuardia (LGA), and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) – without the risk of losing their slots to rival airlines, as is the norm. The waiver is set to run from May 15 to September 15, and airlines have until April 30 to make a request.
With airlines reducing their operations during the peak summer period, it is hoped that the expected disruption caused by air traffic controller shortages will be kept to a minimum. However, the FAA has also asked airlines to use larger aircraft at busy airports to accommodate more passengers affected by flight cuts.
The FAA’s measures and ongoing shortages of air traffic control staff in the East Coast region are set to affect JetBlue more than most airlines, as the low-cost carrier is based in the city and uses JFK as its primary operating hub.
“We’re staffed, we’ve already trained pilots, we’re paying for pilots, we’ve bought airplanes, we’re paying for gates and slots,” said Hayes. “This is going to have a very significant financial impact on JetBlue and our customers.”
However, JetBlue is not the only carrier to respond to the FAA’s plans. Both Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have already asked the agency to grant a waiver on 10% of its slots at New York’s three major airports and DCA. So far, JetBlue has yet to officially apply for a slot time waiver. Still, Hayes said the carrier plans to do so shortly, and any affected customers will immediately be notified.