ATC Shortages Force New York Airport Slot Waiver Extensions

By Spyros Georgilidakis | August 12, 2023

The FAA is extending its slot waivers for New York area airports, allowing airlines to fly less, due to shortages in air traffic controllers.

In March this year, the FAA announced that from the 15th of May until the 15th of September this year, it would wave some slot requirements for the three New York area airports (JFK, LaGuardia, Newark) and Washington’s Ronald Reagan Airport (KDCA).

Photo: Joshua Hanson

This was in large part because of a lack of air traffic controllers, to handle the complex airspace around the three New York airports. And on Wednesday the 9th of August, the FAA announced that it is extending most of these measures until the 28th of October.

New York Slot Waiver Extension – Addressing Airline Requests

The FAA decided on this move after requests from several airlines and airline body representatives. At the same time, the FAA is also encouraging the airlines to up-gauge the aircraft they use at these airports, to help satisfy travel demand with fewer flights.

Photo: Richard Lu

Despite continuing worries about an economic recession, the aviation industry looks healthy. In itself, this is a bit strange. Usually, the airline industry is among the first to suffer from any financial downturns. People cut down on non-essential expenses when things are hard and for many, airline trips are low-hanging fruit.

Many investors were skeptical of the airline ticket bookings and overall demand for travel that airlines were reporting. But now, even investment giants like what they see in the airline world. Moody’s expects global airline profits in 2023 to reach $29 billion, which could become $40 billion in 2024. In 2019 they stood at $30 billion.

ATC Shortages Force New York Airport Slot Waiver Extensions
Photo: Miguel Angel Sanz

However, there are still some shorter-term worries in the industry, which is what this news on ATC shortages and New York airport slot restrictions is about. A “slot pair” is a takeoff and a landing at an airport. An airline needs at least one such slot pair, to operate a flight from this airport.

Avoiding Disruptions

Getting a new slot pair may not be an issue in less busy airports. But at airports like those around New York City, slot pairs are always in high demand. For this reason, the FAA and other aviation bodies mandate that airlines should use at least 80% of their assigned airport slots – or lose them. This is often called the “Use it or lose it” rule, although its exact terms can vary from airport to airport.

ATC Shortages Force New York Airport Slot Waiver Extensions
Photo: Jimmy Woo

During the pandemic, aviation authorities waived these slot rules, to keep airlines from having to fly empty planes. Authorities extended these waivers repeatedly, but eventually, they went away. Mostly.

In practice, some airports, including those near New York, continued to have slot waivers for different reasons. Constraints in ATC capacity are such a reason. Another would be a lack of good reserves in flight and cabin crew rosters, as well as other airline and airport staff.

ATC Shortages Force New York Airport Slot Waiver Extensions
Photo: Nicolas Jehly

Up-gauging aircraft, i.e. combining flights and using bigger jets, as the FAA suggests, can help with some of these issues. This is something that airlines in the U.S. already tried during the pandemic, operating widebodies for domestic flights.


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