Jan 12, 2023 - Podcasts

The latest fiasco to snarl U.S. air travel

Air travel across the U.S. was at a standstill for several hours on Wednesday morning because of an outage to a Federal Aviation Administration system that sends real-time safety alerts to pilots. It's just one of a host of issues the airline industry has faced recently.

  • Plus, the influx of migrants arriving on South Florida's shores.
  • And, the internet's short video creativity crisis.

Guests: Axios' Joann Muller, Martin Vassolo and Sara Fischer.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Thursday, January 12.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: the influx of migrants arriving on South Florida’s shores. Plus, the internet’s short video creativity crisis. But first, today’s One Big Thing: the latest fiasco to snarl U.S. air travel.

NIALA: Air travel across the U.S. was at a standstill for several hours yesterday morning because of an outage to a system the FAA uses to send real-time safety alerts to pilots.

PETE BUTTIGIEG: I've directed FAA to figure out exactly how this happened. The timeline piece by piece about what was known overnight, uh, going into last night and then coming out of it.

NIALA: That’s transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on MSNBC yesterday.

But yesterday’s outage is just one of many issues the airline industry has faced in recent months. Here to explain what’s going on is Axios’ Joann Muller. Joann, let's start with this FAA problem yesterday. Do we know what caused it?

JOANN MULLER: I think that the FAA is still trying to figure out exactly what's behind it. But it's one of those systems that is only there for a rainy day when there might be trouble, but you can't really operate without it. And so that's why they ordered a ground stop.

NIALA: Yesterday was very specific and unusual, but let's zoom out for a second. Why has air travel been such a mess for the past month?

JOANN: Well, you know, it's really longer than the past month. You know, if you go back to last summer, there were repeated meltdowns and a lot of it was, people coming back to traveling after the pandemic. And, weather problems that disrupted travel in certain areas and it quickly, you know, escalates through the whole, or cascades I should say through the whole country. And also, the air traffic control system is kind of overburdened. There's a lot more flights in the air, and now we have drones and other things like that. And the FAA is working hard to keep up, but, but they've got pretty old technology and, and that's gonna need to be fixed.

NIALA: What can we expect Secretary Buttigieg to do to smooth things over or fix this?

JOANN: It's interesting, the transportation secretary has been blaming the airlines a lot for these mishaps and telling them they need to take better care of their customers. Well, it's been a little turnabout now, for him. But there's not a whole lot he can do other than work with FAA to get the system running again, but longer term, the FAA needs a lot more money to upgrade its infrastructure and probably to increase its staffing to handle the increased load in the sky.

NIALA: And is that up to Buttigieg or Congress?

JOANN: Well, Congress will consider every five years they have to re-up the authorization for the FAA, which includes the funding and maybe serendipitously that is going to happen this year, it's up for renewal. So I know that all of this stuff is going to be getting a lot of attention between now and September.

NIALA: Joann Muller is Axios’ Transportation Correspondent and co-author of the What's Next Newsletter. Thanks, Joann.

JOANN: Thank you Niala.

NIALA: In a moment: Haitian and Cuban migrants arrive en masse in South Florida.

The influx of migrants arriving on South Florida’s shores

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

An influx of Cuban and Haitian migrants have been arriving by boat in the Florida Keys and authorities are overwhelmed. The Coast Guard says migrant encounters in their Miami sector have increased by 400% since October, and that's on top of the nearly 250,000 Cubans who migrated to the U.S. in the last year.

All of this comes as President Biden has been pushing his new immigration policy this week, which would allow for legal entry of 30,000 migrants a month from Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Axios' Martin Vassolo is in Miami and has been covering this story. Hey Martin.

MARTIN VASSOLO: Hey, how are you? Thanks for having me on.

NIALA: Martin, can you give us a sense of what's been happening in South Florida, especially over the past couple weeks with migrants arriving?

MARTIN: We've seen a ramp up of, you know, this so-called maritime migration, where migrants are making that trip less than a hundred miles in often makeshift boats. They arrive, they have to wait, you know, anywhere from an hour to sometimes a whole day for, you know, border patrol to arrive. And, they've landed at, for example, the Dry Tortugas National Park, overwhelming the park rangers and staff there forcing the federal government to temporarily close that for a few days. In many cases with the recent influx, migrants are having to spend hours upon hours waiting for agents to show up and to pick them up.

NIALA: So you've reported that the last two years have seen one of the largest exodus from both Cuba and Haiti. Why is this happening?

MARTIN: It's really, economic crises, worsening conditions in both countries. In Haiti, you know, there's spikes in gang violence, political instability, and you know, in Cuba they're also seeing deepening poverty blackouts, shortages. And so yeah, many of them are that decision to leave, and most of them are going to the land border in Mexico. But others are making that journey, through the Florida Straits and to try to make it to South Florida.

NIALA: So the Florida National Guard has been activated. Senator Marco Rubio sent a letter to DHS calling for additional federal support. How is Biden's new immigration policy coming into play here?

MARTIN: They sort of announced these two policies at the same time. At first they were saying they were gonna ramp up expulsions, and then, like you mentioned, this new parole program where, you know, if you have an eligible sponsor that you'll be able to come into the U.S. But what the government's trying to do is to limit the illegal crossings. It's been reported that they've come out and said that, you know, if you do come illegally, you won't be eligible for this parole program. You can be banned for a number of years.

So, we're still seeing migrant crossings happen. There was a short period of time where they stopped a little bit. But then this week they've resumed, so we haven't seen much of a change in terms of, you know, numbers of people and it's still happening here.

NIALA: So Martin, South Florida is a population that is overwhelmingly immigrant and foreign born. How are these Haitian and Cuban boat migrants being received, especially when they're coming ashore, probably to some really wealthy gated communities.

MARTIN: Yeah, what we've been hearing, is the overwhelming majority of people who are hearing about these landings or who happen to witness it maybe on their property or in their neighborhood, is that they're wishing the best for the migrants and they're glad that they made that perilous journey safely. We haven't heard hostility from neighbors. It's been a positive reaction, except from the law enforcement in the Keys who are feeling overwhelmed and want some federal action to try to curb this.

NIALA: Martin Vassolo is a Axios’ local reporter based in Miami. Thanks Martin.

MARTIN: Thank you.

The internet’s short video creativity crisis

NIALA: One last story for you today: Axios’ Media Reporter Sara Fischer is reporting that a new era of short-form video is sweeping the internet, and it’s forcing creators to change their media strategies. Hey Sara – what’s going on here?

SARA FISCHER: Hey Niala. So have you looked through your Instagram feed lately and wondered? Why does this feel like TikTok? Well, that's because it does. Instagram's parent meta has introduced new algorithms to make the app feel more like TikTok with prioritizing short form viral videos. It's doing the same thing on its other app Facebook and other big tech giants are also following suit. Snapchat has a new feature called Spotlight, which feels like TikTok, even Reddit acquired a company that is producing short form TikTok like videos. And they're all doing it because that's where consumers are headed. People wanna scroll through short form, vertical video on their phones to pass time.

But the challenge is for creators, not everyone wants to be a video maker. You have people like photographers who suddenly feel left out by the algorithm if they're not posting short form videos. The same thing goes for news publishers. We are used to promoting text and writing pieces, and suddenly, in order to build an audience on these platforms, we need to create short form videos. Now, while there's more tools than ever before to get creative. The challenge here is that we're all starting to chase the same viral trends. And for consumers, that means that you're seeing the same songs, the same audio means or the same viral dances over and over.

NIALA: Sarah Fischer writes the Axios Media Trends Newsletter.

That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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