JetBlue will cut flights in, out of New York this summer, CEO says

JetBlue said nearly 60% of its flights travel in and out of New York every day

JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes warned Wednesday that the discount carrier is going to have to cut flights into and out of the New York area this summer due to a significant shortage of air traffic controllers. 

During a discussion at the Economic Club of New York in New York City, Hayes said staffing at the air traffic control center that handles all inbound, outbound and through traffic across New York airspace is only at 54% of what is needed. That is compared to the national average of 81%, Hayes continued. 

"Even though we're ready, we've got airplanes, we've hired pilots… JetBlue and other airlines are going to have to cut flights in and out of New York this summer in order to cope," Hayes said. 

JetBlue Airways Corporation

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) warned that if the industry doesn't cut flights in the area, delays will be 45% worse compared to last summer, Hayes said.

To put that in perspective, about 350 flights were delayed in the New York area every day last summer, in part, because of air traffic control staffing issues, Hayes said, citing FAA data. 

The FAA has not immediately responded to FOX Business' request for comment. 

"Imagine that being 45% worse," Hayes said. "It's just not feasible." 

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Last week, the FAA said that while it "continues to reduce the air traffic controller training backlog at many FAA air traffic facilities, staffing levels at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (N90) continue to be below targets."

However, the agency said it is taking "several steps to keep air travel to and from New York City this summer safe and smooth." To try and mitigate disruptions, the agency said it will "give airlines flexibility on slot usage requirements. In turn, the FAA expects airlines to take actions minimizing impacts on passengers, including operating larger aircraft to transport more passengers and making sure passengers are fully informed about any possible disruptions."

A JetBlue Airways Airbus A320-232

A JetBlue Airways Airbus takes off from Los Angeles international Airport in Los Angeles on July 30, 2022. (AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images / Getty Images)

Hayes said this impacts JetBlue more than its rivals because the majority of its flights, nearly 60%, are in and out of the New York area every day. 

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The news also comes just after the New York-based airline invested tens of millions of dollars to ramp up hiring.

JetBlue has "hired more people than we have ever hired," Hayes said, in order to be prepared for the busy summer travel season and to help New York continue to recover from the impacts of the pandemic. 

A JetBlue Airways kiosk at New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport

Travelers check-in at a JetBlue Airways kiosk at John F. Kennedy Airport in the Queens borough of New York. (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo / Reuters Photos)

This, however, "is going to be a significant step backwards in our ability to do that," he said. 

The "10% [of flights] we're taking out is largely offsetting the growth that was due to happen," Hayes added. 

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The exec also noted that this doesn't just affect New York

For instance, JetBlue is the largest airline in Boston, but every flight south goes through the New York center and is also going to "be subject to similar challenges," Hayes said. 

The CEO added he wouldn't be surprised if other airlines follow suit. 

JetBlue in January forecast that 2023 revenue would grow in the "high single digits to low double digits" and available seat miles (ASMs) would increase by 5.5% to 8.5%.