FAA Honolulu Emergency: Total Ground Stop, Catapulting Flight Delays, Looming Questions

Looming FAA Concerns After Emergency Honolulu Ground Stop + Flight Delays

For reasons not entirely clear at this time, the FAA decided on Wednesday it needed to shut down all departures and arrivals at Honolulu Airport due to a medical issue in the tower. The problem was not long-lasting, yet it was enough to throw flights into rapid disarray. While our primary concern is for the well-being of the FAA employee involved, it also raises serious questions about what is going on in the FAA control tower at Hawaii’s largest airport.

Based on an email we received from the state, the ground stop at Honolulu Airport (HNL) started just after 1:00 PM on Wednesday. A subsequent email came about an hour later from the State of Hawaii, Department of Transportation/Airports saying “The ground stop on interisland and mainland flights has been lifted.”

There was no further explanation given at that time. We’ve since learned from the FAA that the issue was a medical emergency affecting one of its employees in the HNL control tower. It isn’t clear why, in a tower staffed by multiple people, that incident would result in the airport virtually closing. But, in this case, that’s what happened. The FAA added only that they stopped all flights due to the first responders attending to their employee.

117 Honolulu flights were delayed and two were canceled.

We don’t have adequate information at this time to determine how many of these delays and cancellations are as a result of the FAA issue in the control tower. However, we analyzed data over the prior three days and know that there were fewer than 60 flight delays on average on those days. That means that at least 60 additional flights were delayed as a result of the FAA problem.

FAA staffing is a huge concern in Hawaii and nationwide.

Just last month the U.S. airline industry said it is increasingly worried about the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control staff shortages. This problem, according to the airlines, is snarling flights and more. Airlines report that they are cutting some flights on a voluntary basis as a result of air traffic control shortages.

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said that the lack of air traffic control staffing “was two decades in building and it is going to take years to get it addressed.” The FAA acknowledged recently that it’s about 3,000 controllers behind in its own staffing targets. There are also over 2,500 controllers currently undergoing training.

Concerns come following a number of near-miss incidents in the United States this year, some of which allegedly related to air traffic controller errors. Last month, New York Times said that “Near misses involving U.S. commercial airlines happen on average multiple times a week.”

It’s also been reported that at times controllers are required to work mandatory overtime and six-day shifts in order to cover employee shortages.

The Industry group Airlines for America’s CEO Nick Calio said last month with regards to hiring, “It will take five to seven years to break even if all goes well. Do we need five to seven years of further disruption on a daily basis? I don’t think so.”

What isn’t yet clear is whether staffing shortages at HNL were the reason that a single-person health issue could result in the complete closure of departures and arrivals at the largest airport in Hawaii.

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6 thoughts on “Looming FAA Concerns After Emergency Honolulu Ground Stop + Flight Delays”

  1. Whats happening tomorrow? Everyday a new scare story. Shark attack on iconic Maui beaches. Why not other beaches on other islands have this problem. Lightning hits plane leaving Vegas on route to Honolulu. Now a air traffic controller has a medical issue at Honolulu causing 117 delays and 2 cancellations. Yahoo did a story on Hawaiians and locals signing a petition not to reopen October 8th and the governor said open anyway. The total of 10,000 locals signed this petition. Seems odd and fishy that all these tragic events happened 3 days prior. With locals posting signs on social media stating No tourist trespassing, Are tourist really welcome or not? In my opinion these incidents scream not welcome. What a hassle.

  2. Kind of reminds me of the mysterious event of the false alarm missile alert we all experienced here in Hawaii 5 years when somebody hit the wrong button during a shift change?

  3. Seems that AI would be the ultimate solution to human error, drug and alcohol abuse, and mental health issues that plague the current workforce.

    1. My thoughts were more in line with Aileen. Your comments definitely raise a bigger concern and I certainly hope that employees get tested for drugs and alcohol before they can be on a job where they potentially control the lives of thousands …

  4. If one of their colleagues was having a major medical emergency in the room, seems like a good idea to Not have staff controlling flight landings for a short time. I don’t know the details but I’d rather wait to land or take off than have someone distracted directing these operations.

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