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FAA to increase Florida air traffic controllers, work with airlines to avoid more flight disruptions in state

American Airline planes sit on the tarmac at Miami International Airport (MIA) in Miami, Florida, on February 2, 2022.

Daniel Slim | AFP | Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that it will “immediately” increase staffing at a major air traffic control center in Florida to handle airlines’ surging numbers of flights to the Sunshine State after passengers this year faced thousands of flight cancellations and delays.

“Because representatives said Florida operations will continue increasing past 2019 levels, the FAA will immediately increase the number of authorized staff at Jacksonville Center and evaluate other Florida facilities,” the agency said in a statement. 

The FAA held a two-day meeting with airlines as well as private aviation industry members this week to discuss solutions to air traffic congestion in Florida. Executives from JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines and Southwest Airlines have blamed air traffic control staffing shortfalls on recent delays to and from the state.  

The FAA said it is not capping the number of flights serving Florida.

More frequent thunderstorms in Florida, coupled with high travel demand and thinner airline staffing levels than needed, also led to the delay or cancellation of thousands of flights last month alone. 

Airlines said Florida flights would continue to surpass pre-pandemic levels of 2019 this year, a sign of continued strong demand there.

Other obstacles in the state have included an increasing number of space launches and military exercises.

The agency said it will share more information with carriers about such events, which often mean airspace closures. The FAA also said it would help airlines come up with alternative altitudes, such as flying under weather systems, to keep traffic moving.

“The agency will also work with stakeholders to develop a playbook to keep aircraft moving safely when weather, space launches or other events constrain capacity,” the FAA said. “The FAA will increase the ability for airlines to keep aircraft moving during these events by using alternate routes and altitudes when possible.”

The FAA said it plans to meet with airlines throughout the summer so operations run more smoothly. Carriers have added more flights to Florida over the past year. Last year, Florida logged a record of nearly 118 million domestic visitors, according to state data.

Miami service is up 113%, Tampa, 107%, and West Palm Beach up 132% over 2019, before the Covid pandemic, according to FAA figures.

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