Trade association Airlines for America has called on the US Government to urgently modernize the country’s outdated ATC technology and address the shortage of air traffic controllers.
The call was made during a speech in Washington this week by the president and CEO of Airlines 4 America (A4A) Nick Calio, during which he said the US National Airspace System (NAS) was falling behind the rest of the world in terms of ATC technology and failing to meet passengers and airlines expectations.
A4A’s members include major American carriers such as American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
Citing a FAA safety review published last November, he criticized the lack of progress in updating major ATC systems, pointing out that most ATC facilities in the USA are still using paper strips to track flights, and that there were two major ATC outages last year that grounded commercial aircraft.
Calio also said that it “blows his mind” that controllers still use floppy disks to upload data to IDS4 (Information Display System) computers in more than 200 ATC facilities. IDS-4 was first deployed in the early 1990s.
Calio said, “How is the FAA supposed to attract young talent and compete for jobs when they use technology that most 20-30 years old have never even seen?”
“The NAS is more crowded and complex than ever with the evolution of commercial space and other new entrants. While the system has gotten more complex , the platform it operates on is falling behind. One need only look at the state of our ATC facilities to realize that,” he added.
“The FAA’s 21 Air Route Traffic Control Centers, which largely control enroute air traffic, are located in buildings that are roughly 60 years old, with no current plan or budget to replace any of them.”
The FAA is around 3,000 controllers short of its staffing targets, despite hitting a goal of employing 1,500 controllers last year. It employs around 10,700 controllers.
According to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, last year saw the total number of controllers in the USA grow by only six people compared to 2022.
“Last year, the agency netted a total of just six new certified professional controllers. Six. Single digit. At this rate, it will take decades to fix this problem. We do not have decades. The staffing shortage is having a material and direct impact on the aviation system,” said Calio.