The Federal Aviation Administration will extend a waiver for airlines’ slot usage at busy airports in the Northeast USA through the end of the northern hemisphere’s summer travel season next year.

The US aviation regulator said on 5 June that airlines holding slots at John F Kennedy International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International airports will be able to reduce their schedules there by 10% without penalties for non-use of slots. In addition, it is also extending flexibility for impacted flights operating between Washington DC’s Ronald Reagan National airport and the New York airports.

The measure was introduced in 2023 to give airlines operational flexibility as the FAA struggled with air traffic controller (ATC) staffing levels across the country.. It was slated to expire at the end of October 2024, but will now remain in place until at least 25 October 2025. The current air traffic controller shortage is particularly acute in the Northeast USA

JFK tower-c-Shutterstock

The FAA will extend slot waivers at busy airports in the Northeast USA, including John F Kennedy International, until the end of October 2025

“The FAA is taking several measures to help ease congestion-related delays due to high demand and staffing shortfalls at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control,” the regulator says, “Air traffic controller hiring is one of our top priorities, and we are on track to hire 1,800 controllers this year, 300 more than last year.”

At the moment, however, “there are not enough certified controllers…to allow the FAA to handle normal traffic levels”.

In order to relieve some of the pressure, the FAA is also transferring responsibility for the Newark airspace to controllers in the Philadelphia area.

“The FAA is receptive to carriers’ requests for slot usage flexibility and the agency expects that airlines will use this opportunity to operate larger aircraft, transporting more passengers,” the FAA says. “This, in turn, will require sufficient ground crews to service the larger aircraft and ensure passengers are fully informed about any possible disruptions.”

Typically, airlines must use assigned slots at traffic-restricted airports 80% of the time. During the global Covid-19 crisis – when air traffic dropped precipitously – aviation regulators globally relaxed such requirements, allowing airlines to maintain slots without long-term penalty.

Since the end of the pandemic, the busy New York airspace has repeatedly experienced delays and cancellations due to the ATC staffing shortage, also sometimes coupled with unstable weather.