Just days after Southwest Airlines operations recovered from an absolute meltdown, they were forced to cancel 4% of their flights and delay 41%, with the primary cause outside of their control – an air traffic control outage in South Florida. American Airlines, which has a hub in Miami, delayed one third of flights while JetBlue cancelled 3% and delayed 53%. Delta delayed a third of flights as well.
The incident wasn’t nearly as significant as an air traffic control meltdown that occurred just the day before in the Philippines, however.
Air traffic control in Manila lost power on New Years’ and all flights were halted. Tens of thousands of passengers were stranded as flights were cancelled and diverted. Inbound aircraft couldn’t fly to Manila – for instance a Qantas flight from Sydney took a six hour flight to nowhere, turning around nearly halfway through its eight hour journey.
There are currently no airborne commercial flights in the Philippines (MANILA FIR). pic.twitter.com/xUhyPJarmE
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) January 1, 2023
The government in the Philippines blamed its own outdated systems and technology for the failure, saying they’re a decade behind modern infrastructure in places like Singapore.
LOOK: Gulf Air, Korean Airlines, and Saudia Airlines distribute food packs and drinks to passengers of delayed flights brought about by technical issues in the air traffic facilities of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippine. 📸 MIAA pic.twitter.com/0j1BYHOgmv
— Gerard de la Peña (@gerarddelapena) January 1, 2023
Southwest’s fall 2021 meltdown was caused by lack of air traffic control staffing in Jacksonville, Florida. On a given day around half of Southwest’s planes pass through Florida. And since the airline’s ‘point-to-point’ route network was accurately blamed the last time, many just assumed that was again the cause over the 2022 holidays.
U.S. air traffic control fails too often – perhaps not as dramatically as it did in the Philippines, but we certainly shouldn’t be proud. The U.S. FAA acts both as regulator and service provider, hardly a best practice, and fails to invest appropriately in technology in part due to the vagaries of annual congressional appropriations cycles. Air traffic control should be freed from government provision and – like much of the rest of the world, including Canada – spun off into a separate non-profit that can make independent investment decisions.