DOT Sec. Pete Buttigieg tells TPG why air travel worked better in 2023


Fewer home business flights had been canceled in 2023 than at any level in at the very least the previous decade, the Division of Transportation mentioned this week.

Regardless of a couple of scattered tough patches over the course of the 12 months, airline reliability surged following a number of bumpy years of coronavirus pandemic restoration in what the Transportation Safety Administration mentioned was the busiest-ever 12 months for air journey.

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Of roughly 16.3 million scheduled flights all through the nation, fewer than 1.2% had been canceled, the DOT mentioned. The typical cancellation fee since 2013 is 1.7%.

Holiday performance was especially successful, the DOT mentioned, with 0.8% of flights canceled between Sunday, Dec. 17, and Monday, Jan. 1. That quantity was particularly stark in comparison with the 2022 holidays, when a extreme snowstorm and associated operational meltdown at Southwest Airways drove the cancellation fee to eight.2%.

“We have put increasingly more stress on the airways to show the realism of their schedules, the extent of staffing, the rest that would have led to controllable delays, and I believe that work has actually paid off,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg informed TPG in a cellphone interview on Thursday.

“I believe that displays the response of the airways to the stress that we placed on them,” he added, “in addition to some work that we have been doing inside the [DOT],” resembling opening up new routings for aircraft to fly up and down the East Coast and dealing with the navy to mitigate the affect of routine flight operations in Florida.

Buttigieg pointed to the record $140 million fine the DOT recently issued to Southwest for the 2022 episode, noting that the company was “chang[ing] the economics which may create some motive for airways to suppose that they’d profit from delaying vital investments.”

Associated: Southwest has a plan to get back on track after holiday meltdown. Here’s what execs tell TPG

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The unrealistic scheduling practices Buttigieg referenced embody planning flights that the airways weren’t ready to completely function, he mentioned, together with “for causes of gaining market share or different anti-competitive causes.”

“Now we have lively investigations proper now, and are calling on airways to do the proper factor within the first place and never enable there to be motive for suspicion that they’re knowingly scheduling flights that they don’t seem to be ready to adequately serve,” he mentioned.

The airways additionally labored successfully to agency up their operations following the primary post-pandemic years, Buttigieg mentioned.

“Once they had been brief on staffing, quite a lot of airways responded with higher pay for these high-demand positions,” he mentioned. Buttigieg cited higher pay rates for pilots at regional airlines for example.

The low flight cancellation charges got here even because the Federal Aviation Administration continued to deal with a scarcity of air site visitors controllers that has induced disruptions to U.S. flights over latest years.

Whereas the company efficiently employed sufficient controllers — about 1,500 — to handle attrition from retirements and different departures final 12 months, Buttigieg mentioned the scarcity stays ongoing, notably within the busy airspace surrounding New York Metropolis and Jacksonville, Florida.

“There was an ongoing problem ensuring there are sufficient certified air site visitors controllers out there to work these areas,” which may contribute to delays, Buttigieg mentioned.

“We have lastly seen a rise within the variety of whole air site visitors controllers,” he added. “I am inspired by that, however I am additionally very involved as a result of we have to decide up the tempo on that hiring to verify it stays forward of retirements and departures.”

The company plans to rent 1,800 controllers this 12 months, based on Buttigieg.

Buttigieg famous {that a} looming authorities shutdown would “utterly cease hiring” by closing the company’s coaching services.

“We must be doing extra, not much less, in the case of staffing and know-how,” he mentioned.

Final summer season, the FAA instituted a slot waiver at airports in New York and Washington, D.C., to assist handle the scarcity — the coverage inspired airways to fly as much as 10% fewer flights from these airports, partly by combining frequencies on routes and utilizing greater plane, with out risking dropping market share. That waiver has since been prolonged by means of Oct. 27, 2024.

Buttigieg mentioned that the DOT is frequently reevaluating the waiver and that it had an “vital impact” on serving to to forestall cancellations and delays linked to congestion however prompt that it is extra of a brief resolution.

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“We actually need to make it possible for the system as a complete is wholesome and fluid, and we’re persevering with to take a look at how all of the totally different items come collectively, from ATC staffing to fit coverage to the airways’ personal decisions,” he mentioned.

A part of that system contains congestion brought on by personal jets and basic aviation plane.

Airways for America, an trade group that represents the key U.S. airways, amongst others, requested officers final week to assist handle the affect of personal planes on the general air site visitors system, Reuters reported.

“I do suppose there’s an actual concern round these personal jets and the way they compete for precedence with passenger journey,” Buttigieg informed TPG.

Whereas precedence must be given to business plane, Buttigieg mentioned, enhancements to the broader system, together with air site visitors management and airport infrastructure, will assist widen capability total.



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