FAA says it’s working with airlines to ease Florida flight disruptions

Spirit, Frontier and JetBlue have trimmed schedules after problems in Florida's airspace jammed up flights

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is working with airlines to ease mounting air-traffic problems in Florida, where bad weather and staffing shortages have snarled flights as demand for air travel in the state surges.

The FAA said it would increase air-traffic-control staffing and tweak flight practices to address the strains, after meeting with about a dozen airlines, small-plane operators and aviation groups.

More-frequent thunderstorms in Florida, which has a large population and popular vacation spots, have disrupted flights in recent months, and some airlines have said they are sharing airspace with more space launches from Kennedy Space Center, located along the Atlantic in central Florida.

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Airlines including Spirit Airlines Inc., Frontier Group Holdings Inc. and JetBlue Airways Corp. have said they have trimmed schedules after problems in Florida's airspace jammed up flights, resulting in disruptions that rippled through their networks. Carriers have cited short staffing at an air-traffic facility near Jacksonville, which controls the airspace over a swath of the state.

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
SAVE SPIRIT AIRLINES INC. 19.86 +0.99 +5.25%
ULCC FRONTIER GROUP HOLDINGS 9.52 +0.60 +6.73%
JBLU JETBLUE AIRWAYS CORP. 10.61 +0.35 +3.41%

"This has had an outsized impact on our operations given our large concentration in Florida," Spirit Chief Executive Ted Christie said in the airline's quarterly report Wednesday, referring to air-traffic-control staffing issues and other factors in the state. "As a result, in mid-April, we made the decision to decrease some flying in Florida and increase the buffers in our schedule."

JetBlue President Joanna Geraghty said last month that the carrier experienced 115 hours of air-traffic delays in Florida in April, compared with 22 hours in 2019.

JetBlue

A Jetblue Airways Airbus A320 taking off from Fort Lauderdale Airport. (Credit: iStock / iStock)

The FAA said it would immediately increase staff levels at the Jacksonville air-traffic facility and consider adding staff at other facilities in the state.

The agency also plans to share information more frequently about activity that could change operations in Florida's airspace and create a playbook meant to help keep planes moving safely when flights face constraints.

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Airlines are willing to change how pilots handle certain flights, such as flying at lower altitudes to avoid difficult weather patterns, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Florida has been one of the most popular travel destinations throughout the pandemic, and airlines have been piling into the state with new flights.

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The number of flights at major airports there has recently exceeded prepandemic levels, and the FAA said participants in its meetings expected demand for Florida travel will continue to increase past 2019 levels. Private-jet flights to the state have also been on the rise.

Airlines have generally been reporting a strong rebound in demand, with spring and summer bookings setting records. Consumers have flocked back to leisure travel, and business travel has shown signs of picking up. That has created new challenges for carriers to add staff and handle demand.