Facing a post-pandemic shortage of air traffic controllers at New York City airports, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has agreed to allow airlines flexibility on slot usage requirements for airports in the New York City area until October 28, 2023.

In a statement, the FAA said it was working closely with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) to implement a long-term solution to resolve ongoing low staffing levels at the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (N90), which remains 54% staffed.

In the meantime, the regulator expects airlines to continue operating larger aircraft to transport more passengers and ensure passengers are fully informed about any possible disruptions.

The statement followed the FAA on August 9 extending a limited waiver of slot usage requirements at Washington National, New York JFK, New York La Guardia, and New York Newark from September 16 to October 28, 2023. End-October coincides with the end of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) summer season when airlines have relatively higher traffic levels.

"Carriers will be permitted to voluntarily turn in up to 10% of their slots held at JFK and LGA [La Guardia], as well as impacted slots at DCA [Washington National] for the period from September 16, 2023, through October 28, 2023," the FAA said.

"In addition, the FAA has determined to extend through October 28, 2023, the limited policy for prioritising returned operations at Newark due to post-pandemic effects on ATC staffing at N90 to establish a carrier's operational baseline in the next corresponding season. Carriers will be permitted to voluntarily turn in up to 10% of their approved operating timings at EWR [Newark] for the period from September 16, 2023, through October 28, 2023. These extensions through October 28, 2023, are available on the same conditions and limitations as the relief that the FAA already has announced through September 15, 2023. Carriers seeking to take advantage of this relief must identify the slots and approved operating timings they wish to return to the FAA before September 2, 2023," it stated.

Under normal slot usage regulations, airlines are subject to the "use-it-or-lose-it" rule, where they risk losing them to competitors if their fail to use them.

The FAA extension follows a request by Airlines for America (A4A) on August 7, for an extension of the slot waiver granted in March. At the time, the FAA agreed to a call from Delta Air Lines and United Airlines for a temporary return of 10% slots to be extended until September 15, on condition other carriers could not fill them. This followed congestion at New York airports and Washington National resulting from the air traffic controller shortage.

A4A members include American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta, FedEx Express, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines, United, and UPS Airlines.