Debunk: Air traffic controllers, sequestration and delays …

Flight delays at major airports because of Sequestration.

Say, what?

Here’s a smoking gun chart right from an official FAA report.

According to the FAA, the number of controlled flights (i.e. “systemwide traffic”) has dropped  23% since 2000.

During that same period, the number of air traffic controllers has remained essentially constant.

Said differently, each controller is handling 23% fewer flights than in 2000 … when, to the best of my recollection, the skies were pretty darn safe.

Note that since 2005, the number of flights has gone down 14% and the number of controllers had increased 7.5%.

FAA: A Plan for the Future – 10-Year Strategy for the Air Traffic Control Workforce 2012 – 2021

Here are some verbatims from the FAA report and an out-of-box idea …


Air traffic demand has declined significantly since 2000, the peak year for traffic.

For the purposes of this plan, air traffic includes aircraft that are controlled, separated and
managed by air traffic controllers.

This includes commercial passenger and cargo aircraft as well as general aviation and military aircraft.

In the past decade, volume has declined by 23 percent and is not expected to return to 2000 levels in the near term.


System-wide controller headcount is slightly higher than in 2000.

On a per-operation basis, the FAA has more fully certified controllers on board today than in 2000.

= = = = =
Back to the Sequester cuts …

The FAA is requiring that all of its 47,000 employees take one day off every two weeks, part of an effort to achieve the $637 million in cuts the agency must make by the end of September. That includes all 15,000 air traffic controllers.  Source

OK, 1 day every 2 weeks is 10%, right?

That means that air traffic controllers will still be handling 13% fewer flights per controller than they did in 2000.

If that’s too much stretch, why not have each of the 32,000 non-controllers on the FAA payroll take 3 days a month off … and leave the controllers alone.


What do those 32,000 people do anyway?

Maybe they prepare reports that the mass media doesn’t read and report.

Double hmmm.

Maybe some of them can be permanently furloughed.

= = = = =

So, tell me again why Sequestration is causing flight delays.

Looks to me like another bloated government day camp …

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3 Responses to “Debunk: Air traffic controllers, sequestration and delays …”

  1. DavidM Says:

    You have left the massive changes in technology out of the equation — surely the billions spent on improving the systems should be showing some payback by now?

  2. Scott Says:

    I’m very much in agreement with your skepticism. I heard anecdotally that a pilots are informing passengers that flights are “delayed due to budget cuts.” This is occurring after passengers are boarded and buckled. While logically unsound, the excuse does appear to be used in practice, unfortunately.

  3. dave phillips Says:

    Obviously you have forgotten that most major airports, metros and centers have been existing on overtime to fill for the lack of qualified controllers since 1981. Just cutting the overtime would cause delays let alone laying off controllers.
    I agree that staff could have taken all the cuts and left the controllers to do their important job.

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