Flights through, to and from Florida are getting delayed a remarkable amount, just in time for the summer travel season, thanks to a dramatic increase in private jet flights, space launches and military flights. Delays have gotten so bad that Federal Aviation Administration officials in the Sunshine State met this week to work out what to do about the increasing traffic jams.
The FAA uses 22 Air Route Traffic Control Centers to handle the mind-bending complicated task of routing the approximately 45,000 daily flights through U.S. airspace. The agency recorded a seven percent decrease in the number of flights nationwide, except at its Jacksonville, Florida, branch, which actually saw a five percent increase.
Some carriers are canceling flights over the traffic issue, despite needing to make up the revenue after COVID-19 lockdowns sapped demand, according to Bloomberg:
The facility reported 8,935 delays that lasted more than 543,000 minutes — the cumulative equivalent of more than a year — in March alone. That’s the third-highest number of delays at any FAA Center since 2017 and the most since the start of the pandemic, according to FAA data. Delays have been elevated in the region since October.
Charter operations and private flights are driving the bulk of the flight increase. At Palm Beach International Airport, private and charter flights in March jumped 65% to 12,239, compared to 7,412 in 2019.
Private jet traffic picked up during the pandemic as consumers avoided packed commercial jets, said Peter Maestrales, chief executive officer of charter broker Airstream Jets.
“Palm Beach was typically a pretty quiet airport,” Maestrales said. “Now it’s unbelievable the departure delays, and just the amount of aircraft parked on the tarmac out there.”
But it’s not just wealthy folks with private planes who are slowing down travel for everyone else. Cape Canaveral is once again a happening spot; 17 launches so far this year has 2022 on track to be the busiest in decades. Bad weather, like the storm that canceled more than 10,000 flights last month, and military exercises also have forced controllers to close large swaths of airspace in Florida for long periods.
To try and combat commercial flight delays the FAA is taking a page from New York’s playbook for dealing with congested skies, as well as promising more staffing at its Jacksonville branch, which is low but well within guidelines. It can take years to fully train new controllers, which must be as close to a Guild Navigator as you can get outside of Dune.