Welch presses FAA Administrator on BTV flight cancellations

Highlights Electric Aviation in the State 

Vermont Business Magazine In a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, U.S. Senator Peter Welch (D-Vermont) questioned U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Michael Whitaker about how the FAA plans to address the major shortage in air traffic controllers that currently exists across the country, which has led to cancellation of flight paths and contributed to nationwide flight delays.  

In October, JetBlue announced that it would terminate service between the Patrick Leahy Burlington International Airport (Leahy BTV) and New York’s JFK International Airport—which accounts for 10% of all passengers flying into Burlington monthly—due to an ongoing shortage of air traffic control personnel at JFK.  

“My last question is about the FAA’s efforts to try to improve the availability of air traffic control, and that’s important to us—it's important to everybody. But we lost our flight to New York City, which is—we've got to correct that. And my understanding is that the lack of air traffic controllers is relevant to that. With respect to the changes that were made in the [FAA] Reauthorization Act, what is your assessment of where we’re going to be on addressing that shortage of air traffic controllers?” asked Senator Welch.  

In response to questioning, FAA Administrator Whitaker said the agency has, “increased our efforts to hire across the board by making it easier for military controllers to hire directly into the agency; by putting together a program to allow aeronautical universities to train students to the same standards as the academy so they can come after taking the exam—come directly into facilities. So, we’ve been able to really open up the pipeline for new controllers. It takes a long time to make a controller, so there’s a little bit of a lag, but we’re making really good progress.”  

FAA Administrator Whitaker addressed service in Burlington: “I think that was largely a reduction because we’ve reduced capacity on the east coast corridor by 10% because of staffing problems specifically in New York. We are in the process of moving some of that airspace to Philadelphia. That’s been a long process, but we’re hoping to cut over in July—end of July...It’s going to take some time to get that elephant through the boa, but we think it’s going to be a solution to this problem.” 

Sen. Welch also asked Administrator Whitaker about the FAA’s support of a new five-year electric aircraft infrastructure pilot program and the agency’s ongoing efforts to bolster the electric aviation industry. 

Watch the Senator’s full remarks below

At the hearing, Sen. Welch also discussed Boeing’s level of cooperation with the FAA amidst ongoing safety investigations. Earlier this year, Sen. Welch joined Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and JD Vance (R-Ohio) in sending a letter to Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun demanding answers about the company’s manufacturing quality control, oversight of contractors, and communications after a Boeing 737 Max 9 door plug blew off the side of an airplane while in-flight. He also questioned safety experts about Boeing’s recent safety lapses in a Commerce Committee hearing in April, emphasizing the importance of holding Boeing to the highest standard of safety.  

In the Senate, Senator Welch has worked to support rural airports, and increase aviation safety and quality. Following JetBlue’s announcement that it would terminate service from Leahy BTV to JFK, the Vermont Congressional Delegation sent a letter to JetBlue CEO Robin Hayes urging the airline to reinstate service between the airports and to compensate all passengers impacted by the service termination.  Senator Welch has also led efforts in the Senate to strengthen safety protections for travelers in the wake of mechanical failures on Boeing’s 737 Max 9 aircrafts. 

Source: 6.13.2024. WASHINGTON, D.C. – Welch

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