Buttigieg calls meeting of airline CEOs as operational issues persist

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Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will meet with airline CEOs on Thursday as concerns persist about operational reliability this summer.

The meeting comes at Buttigieg’s request, a source attending the meeting told TPG. The person declined to be identified because they were not authorized to talk publicly about the meeting.

“Secretary Buttigieg asked for the meeting because of the high rate of cancellations consumers have experienced, especially during Memorial Day weekend,” the source told TPG. “During the last few weeks, the secretary has had several conversations with industry leaders expressing concerns about reliability and deteriorating customer service.”

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In recent weeks, a number of airlines have faced operational snafus, including Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines and JetBlue. Some airlines have proactively canceled flights weeks in advance in an effort to avoid operational meltdowns that have become commonplace in the past year.

Under the Biden administration, the Transportation Department has prioritized consumer protection and increasing competition.

All mainline and regional airlines will be represented at the meeting, the source said.

The meeting comes a little under a week after the head of the industry’s lobbying group, Airlines for America, sent a letter to Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, pointing the finger at the Federal Aviation Administration as a cause of the industry’s operational problems.

“The FAA must also work to ensure that the air traffic control system is capable of meeting demand,” Nicholas Calio wrote in a letter that was obtained by Reuters.

More: FAA pledges to work with airlines to fix Florida’s air traffic delays

For months, there has been tension between the FAA and the airline industry over airspace in Florida, particularly surrounding an air traffic control facility near Jacksonville that handles en route traffic over the northern part of the state. That facility has seen some staffing issues, while the state has seen increased demand, more rocket launches and stormier weather in recent years. At a meeting last month between the FAA and airline industry stakeholders, a number of changes were agreed to, including increasing the staffing that’s authorized at the facility, known as the Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, and creating a “playbook” to add predictability to the operation.

Despite the airline industry’s complaint, however, the surge in irregular operations comes as U.S. airlines have wobbled in their attempt to return to normal following cuts made during the depths of the pandemic. While air traffic control constraints have contributed to flight disruptions, some recent flight disruptions have persisted long beyond weather or other specific events that typically affect air traffic control.

Featured photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

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