The key to reducing airport congestion is to build more runways, not charge more to land, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has told the Department of Transportation. "Peak-hour pricing," the department's so-called "market-based approach" to reducing airport delays, will only hurt general aviation, without changing the behavior of the airlines, the association said in response to the DOT proposal.
DOT (the parent agency for the FAA) wants to charge more for aircraft to land or take off at certain busy airports during peak hours and less during off-peak hours. In theory, that will encourage the airlines to schedule fewer flights during peak periods.
"But you have to consider that the airlines can tack a landing fee increase onto the price of a ticket," said Andy Cebula, AOPA senior vice president of government and technical affairs. "The landing fee, which is spread over hundreds of tickets, would have to be huge before it would change the ticket price enough to convince passengers to travel at different times."
Airlines, driven by passenger demand for flights that arrive and depart at convenient times, will continue to schedule during peak hours. Any financial disincentive to operate at those times will likely be offset by passing the cost of higher fees on to passengers.
"And general aviation pilots don't have the option of passing the landing fee off to someone else," said Cebula.
AOPA said that the best way to deal with congestion problems is to expand airport capacity; specifically, runway capacity. Outgoing FAA Administrator Jane Garvey herself noted in her farewell speech in Washington, D.C., that adding a single runway at Detroit Metro Airport increased capacity 25 percent.
The key to solving congestion in the air is capacity on the ground, AOPA said. The FAA has sought to increase capacity in the air with its Operational Evolution Plan. That's expected to increase capacity some 15 percent.
Yet all of those planes still have to land somewhere. Without better, more efficient use of airspace around the busiest airports, and more runways to land on, delays and congestion will continue.
AOPA also suggested that the FAA streamline the environmental impact process, allowing runway expansion projects to get under way more quickly. In addition, AOPA believes the FAA should move ahead expeditiously with development of new air traffic management technology, which will allow more efficient use of the airspace around busy airports.
"Demand-management options should only be considered after all alternative solutions have been fully explored," said AOPA's Cebula. "Discussion within DOT and throughout the entire aviation industry would be more effectively spent focused on capacity expansion, not options that would create constraint."
A copy of AOPA's response to DOT's "Notice of Market-based Actions to Relieve Airport Congestion and Delay" is available online.
AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization, with more than 385,000 members. It represents the interests of all general aviation pilots.