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Flight delays, cancellations across US could continue for next decade due to staffing shortages: report


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The recent spate of flight delays and cancellations may persist for as much as a decade – due to a shortage of some 32,000 pilots, mechanics and air-traffic controllers, as well as “unrealistic scheduling” by airlines, according to an investigative report.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told CBS News his office is investigating several airlines for what a rep called “unrealistic scheduling,” which leads to a carrier’s inability to provide the expected service to the flying public.

Experts said the trend in staffing issues suggests that the problem could get a lot worse before it gets better — and could affect travelers for another decade.

“Some of the predictions I’m hearing is that the pilot shortage won’t be resolved until 2032 or something like that,” Dean Headley, one of the data and industry experts, told CBS News.

Buttigieg’s office confirmed to CBS News that Southwest Airlines is among the companies under investigation but declined to name the others or provide a timeline for the process.

From Dec. 24 to Dec. 31, software and staffing issues forced Southwest to cancel 14,042 flights, which was 72.3% of all canceled flights nationwide, the outlet reported, citing Department of Transportation (DOT) data.

The airline, which apologized for the rash of cancellations after a massive storm, did not respond to a request for comment by CBS News.

The scheduling issues come amid an expanding lack of personnel, including about 32,000 pilots, mechanics and air-traffic controllers, according to a CBS News analysis of data from the Federal Aviation Administration, DOT and Department of Labor.

“There’s definitely gaps in places. The system is just uneven right now,” said Buttigieg, who acknowledged that the staffing woes have contributed to the surge in cancellations and delays.

Industry experts have recently warned that the summer season will be rough for travelers in part because of lingering air traffic-controller staffing issues and over-scheduling by airlines.

The FAA said it has been working to fix staffing problems in New York City and other parts of the country — and even asked airlines to cut down on their summer schedules.

Industry experts have recently warned that the summer season will be rough for travelers in part because of lingering air traffic-controller staffing issues and over-scheduling by airlines.

“If an airline is knowingly flying an unrealistic schedule, there are going to be consequences,” Buttigieg told CBS News when asked whether he’d hold airlines accountable for not considering staffing levels.

“We have active investigations underway right now with regard to that,” he said. “We take that very seriously because when you sell a ticket to a paying customer and you make a profit off of that, you better be ready to do everything in your power to service that ticket.

“And we’re also going to hold you responsible for what happens if you can’t,” the secretary said.

“If you look at the delays, for example, that America experienced through last year in the summer 2022, a lot of that was driven by these companies not having the staff that they needed,” Buttigieg continued.

“This is not something that’s going to be worked out overnight. It took years to get this way,” he added.

Buttigieg faced the wrath of travelers during the recent holiday weekend, which was marred by chaos that hit New York metro airports the hardest due to foul weather, technical glitches and staffing shortages.

He said the bad weather – which airlines often blame for delays — was the main culprit for the snafus.

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