Air Traffic Controllers’ Resistance May Lead to Travel Disruptions in New York

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TL/DR –

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is planning to relocate 17 air traffic controllers from Long Island to Philadelphia to address the problem of recruiting enough controllers to manage New York’s airspace. However, the workers, supported by powerful members of Congress, are resisting the move citing undue hardship on their families. The FAA hopes the relocation will make it easier to recruit more controllers, leading to increased air safety and efficiency, but it also risks losing experienced controllers who are resistant to leaving New York.


Philadelphia Move for New York Air Traffic Controllers Met with Resistance

Seventeen air traffic controllers based in Long Island have been asked to relocate to Philadelphia by late July, a controversial move by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to tackle persistent staffing issues in New York. Despite substantial incentives, many controllers are resisting the move due to personal and familial reasons.

Last week, a group of New York lawmakers, including Senator Chuck Schumer, sent a letter to the FAA, asking the agency to abandon the relocation plan. They called the forced relocations “confusing and outrageous,” placing undue hardship on the workers.

This resistance underscores the influence of the traffic controllers’ nerve center in Westbury, New York, a high-stress environment responsible for managing the complex New York airspace. The FAA’s plan aims to shift some responsibility to a more affordable living location to attract more controllers, improve staffing levels, and enhance air safety and efficiency.

However, the plan also risks losing experienced controllers resistant to moving, potentially exacerbating staffing issues. The FAA maintains the relocations are necessary to improve efficiency and ensure safety.

The group earmarked for relocation manages the airspace around Newark Liberty International Airport, which the FAA believes can be efficiently managed from Philadelphia. The agency expects the summer flying season to be its busiest since 2010.

Controllers argue that being physically present in the same room with their New York colleagues is essential for quick communication during crises. With the relocation day approaching, the FAA has already implemented a 10% reduction in flight volume in the New York area due to lower staffing levels, potentially forcing delays.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has also shown concern about the situation, stating that the complexity of the N90 airspace is “more complex than many countries’ entire airspaces.”

Chronic Shortages & High Turnover

New York’s air traffic control hub, N90, has long been grappling with chronic staffing shortages. The FAA has attempted various strategies to fill vacant positions, including offering salary raises and bonuses, but success has been limited.

Recent FAA statistics showed that only 32% of N90 trainees achieved full certification, a much lower rate than comparable facilities. The FAA’s efforts to relocate some controllers to Philadelphia has been ongoing since 2020, but has been continuously thwarted by the controllers’ union and New York legislators.

Despite the FAA’s increased incentive bonuses for controllers who voluntarily relocate to Philadelphia, many remain opposed. Union chapter president, Mr. Segretto, stated, “We are completely against it. It’s forcing air traffic controllers to choose between their career and leave their families, or to resign from their job.”

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