HILLIARD, Fla. – Thirty air traffic controllers have been hired for the federal air traffic control center in Hilliard, a source familiar with the Federal Aviation Administration’s plan told News4JAX.
According to the FAA, flights are up 150-170% at some airports in the Sunshine State, and Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center, which controls air space throughout North Florida and South Georgia, is one of the busiest in the United States.
Along with the increased travel demand, the Hilliard air space has its usual challenges with military flights and space launches. And the summer flying season also faces disruptions from weather, thunderstorms and tropical systems.
In a statement Friday to News4JAX, the FAA said it did not have an air traffic controller shortage, but more controllers have been added to the Jacksonville-area team due to other factors.
“The FAA does not have a system-wide air traffic controller shortage. Numerous factors are contributing to air travel delays and cancellations in Florida. The No. 1 cause for delays and cancellation of flights by airlines is convective weather in Florida. Second is demand for travel to Florida. The FAA is working with airlines to share information to keep aircraft moving safely when weather and other airspace events constrain capacity. The FAA is placing additional air traffic controllers at facilities in Florida to support our long-term strategy of staffing to increased traffic demand. More controllers have been added to the team in Jacksonville to help with the demand. To reiterate, weather, airline issues and the demand for airspace in Florida are the major causes of travel issues in Florida,” the statement reads.
The hirings might alleviate some of the flight delays that Florida airports have been seeing.
According to federal data:
- About 37% of delays are Jacksonville International Airport are due to problems with the plane’s equipment, crew or refueling.
- About 28% of delays are caused by a late arriving plane.
- Another 24% of delays are issues with the National Aviation System.
- Weather, cancellations, diversions and security delays make up the remaining 11%.
According to the FAA, the Hilliard center is responsible for about 160,000 square miles of airspace in five states, covering flights from the Panhandle to Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa. It also covers flights in Southeast Georgia and parts of Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina.
The airspace that the facility controls includes more than 20 military airports and about 225 civilian airports, according to the FAA webpage for the center. The page also says that center-wide, its average daily traffic count is about 8,600 operations, with peak traffic being over 9,770 operations in one day. According to the page, 50% of the center’s traffic is air carrier, 30% is general aviation and 20% is military.
In May, the Associated Press reported, the FAA said that it would be adding staff at the key air traffic control center in the Jacksonville area and other places, although it didn’t provide numbers at the time.
The promise came during a two-day meeting between FAA officials and representatives of about a dozen airlines. The airlines told the FAA that the number of Florida flights will shoot past 2019 levels.
Air traffic to Florida picked up more quickly during the pandemic than in many other places, and airlines have scheduled even more flights for this summer. That is raising concern about the potential for massive disruptions that could ripple far beyond the state’s borders.
Some passengers who News4JAX spoke with on Friday at JIA said they saw some minor delays.
“Most of our trips were on time. The first plane was delayed a little bit, but that was about it,” said Peyton Jones, who was traveling with family.
And some offered advice to summer travelers.
“That’s the best advice, I advise anyone, ‘Be on time and don’t be late,’” said Alfred Anderson Jr., who was traveling to Michigan.
That may sound like a cliche, but actually, a spokesperson for the Jacksonville Aviation Authority says travelers should plan to arrive at the airport earlier than usual to account for the summer travel surge.