Aviation director breaks silence on American Airlines' fiasco

Charlotte's aviation director is finally breaking his silence on the American Airlines' fiasco.

In his first TV interview since a computer glitch caused the cancelation or nearly 3000 flights, Brent Cagle, the man who oversees the day-to-day operations at Charlotte Douglas, said he will talk to American Airlines and its regional carrier PSA about having a better failsafe  in place, acknowledged he was "frustrated" by what happened, said the public will hold the airline "accountable" and conceded some aspects of the airport's response could have been handled better. 

"I'm sure there are people answering tough questions at American Airlines," said Cagle. "I think, ultimately, the consumer, the passenger will hold them accountable on their choices."

But choices in Charlotte are limited since American Airlines accounts for 90 percent of flights at Charlotte Douglas, the airline's second largest hub. 

"I think there are folks that have questions to answer," Cagle said when asked if he believed anyone from American Airlines or PSA should be held accountable.

Cagle said he was "frustrated" by the length of time it took PSA to fix the glitch. While he was "satisfied" overall with how the airport handled the situation for passengers he concedes some things could have been handled better. 

"I think there could have been better communication from the airport to the public," he said. "And possibly from PSA and American Airlines to the public." 

FOX 46 had requested an interview with Cagle for weeks but our requests were denied. Cagle finally agreed to an interview July 2, nearly three weeks after the fiasco started.

"We're talking now," he said. "I know it may have seemed like a long time to wait for you and your viewers but we were focusing on the passengers, on the event."

While short on specifics, Cagle said he is reviewing the airport's response for ways to improve. 

"What we want to look at is how do we better handle multi-day events like this," he said. "We're frustrated and we want to learn from that and improve."

On June 14, when PSA's computer meltdown first began, the airport switched to an "irregular operations" schedule. Food concessions stayed open. TSA screeners worked late hours so passengers could come and go. One problem, Cagle said, was there were few hotel rooms available in the city on that night. Just under 1000 people were left stranded, Cagle said. The airport, and airline, provided snacks and water, pillows, diapers and baby formula to stranded passengers.

"Beyond that first night it became not really an issue," said Cagle about the hotel situation. "American Airlines was working to book those passengers into hotels."

Cagle said with passengers using ride-hailing services buses weren't necessary. He says requesting extra rental cars, when the city-owned airport ran out, became a logistics problem.  

"The issue is you don't know how long it's going to last and those resources take time to bring forward," he said, noting the "very short window" of time they expected the cancelations to last. 

FOX 46 previously spoke with an IT expert who believes the computer glitch "absolutely" could have been prevented. The meltdown raises troubling questions, the expert said, about why something as fragile as a flight management system was able to crash resulting in the shutdown of nearly 3000 flights over a week. If the system had build in redundancy or backups place, experts want to know why they didn't work.  

Cagle says that will be part of his discussion with American Airlines. He said he will request they have a better failsafe to prevent this from happening again.  

"I think it's something we will ask them," he said from his office. "But we can't require them to do anything."

"It's certainly something we're interested in," he added, referring to their internal safeguards and backups. "It has an impact on us as it does every airport that PSA serves or American Airlines serves."

Asked whether American Airlines should lose certain tax breaks if this were to happen again, Cagle responded: "I think that's for politicians and others to determine." 

"I think, clearly, they understand there are things they can do differently," he said. "To help ensure this doesn't happen."