Even the White House blames the airlines

September 27, 2007

Even the White House blames the airlines

By Warren D. Morningstar

The White House and the Department of Transportation announced Sept. 27 that they were taking "new steps" to tackle "aviation congestion and delays" in New York and across the nation. But there's less there than meets the eye, according to House transportation leaders.

"The administration's proposal contains a good deal of talking and planning, but little action to address the delay problem and help consumers in the short term," said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn).

"While the airlines have consistently tried to blame general aviation for their delay problems, the White House did finally acknowledge that airlines themselves were, in fact, a significant factor," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. The administration's fact sheet said that the Department of Transportation has started a process to "help the busiest airports adopt new policies to efficiently address chronic airline over-scheduling, which leads to long lines and delays on the tarmac."

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the top Republican on the Transportation Committee, echoed that assessment by saying, "The administration needs to put the brakes on airline over-scheduling at our most congested airports. We must recognize the need for additional runways and new airports."

The administration also announced the formation of the New York Aviation Rulemaking Committee (NYARC) that will "explore market-based mechanisms and other options for addressing airspace congestion and flight delays in the New York area."

But the announcement wasn't even public before the airlines attacked it. The Air Transport Association sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, objecting to congestion pricing and other market-based mechanisms that would "artificially constrain" demand.

ATA called congestion pricing a tax, and said neither the DOT nor the FAA had the authority to impose a tax.

The administration also accused Congress of failing to act on its FAA funding proposal (which included user fees and huge tax increases for general aviation), suggesting lawmakers had to accept some blame for chronic airline delays.

The leaders of the Transportation Committee took umbrage with that.

"This administration put forward an extremely controversial financing proposal for which there was absolutely no consensus," Oberstar, aviation subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello (D-Ill.), and aviation subcommittee senior member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said in a joint Sept. 27 statement.

"The administration's controversial funding proposal has directly contributed to the delay in passing legislation reauthorize the FAA.... [It] failed completely to hold the airlines responsible for what we are now told are 'scheduling practices that are at times out of line with reality.'

"It is the Bush administration that is once again out of line with reality." They said that "lack of oversight" and "failure to use statutory authority" by the administration has played a part in the suffering of airline passengers today.

During a press conference, the Transportation Committee leaders noted that their FAA funding bill (H.R.2881, which has passed the House) would provide $1 billion more for air traffic control modernization (NextGen) than the administration's proposal, and $4 billion more for airports.

September 27, 2007