The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has come in for more criticism from airline bosses over the shortage of air traffic control (ATC) staff, which has badly affected operations.

The US domestic and international airline sectors have recovered over the northern hemisphere summer months, but ATC staffing shortages have forced flight cancellations and slowed the recovery growth, according to airlines.

“In the short to medium term, we have to reduce flights in very impacted airports because the system can’t cope with the number of flights today,” JetBlue Airways CEO Robin Hayes told Reuters.

Hayes admitted the airline is aware it won’t be able to operate all planned flights, even though it is still selling tickets, because of the shortages: “We’re selling flights that we know we won’t be able to operate because of ATC challenges.”

But the issue, although magnified by Covid-19, was not a pandemic-induced problem.

Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, said the problem was “two decades in building and it is going to take years to get it addressed.”

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Hayes echoed Kirby, noting that even if the FAA’s ATC hiring push was doubled, “it would take five years to catch up.”

The FAA said it has 10,700 certified controllers, which is 10% fewer than in 2012. It said it has 2,600 employees in training and hopes to be awarded more than $100m to train at least 1,000 more.