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Airlines (4)

Airlines create their own problems
NBC report backs up AOPA analysis

It's the increasing number of airliners competing for runway space—particularly regional jets—that are a major cause of airline delays, NBC's Tom Costello reported on August 14. The airlines have grounded 385 larger aircraft since 2000, and replaced them with more than 1,000 RJs.

"Fewer seats, cheaper to fly, but competing for the same limited space on runways," Costello said.

And that confirms AOPA's analysis. Delays are the worst in the New York area, and getting worse every year. Yet since Congress removed the FAA's ability to limit the number of flights into those airports (slot control), the airlines have added more and more aircraft, sometimes to the point where the number of scheduled flights exceed the number of operations the airport can handle in VFR conditions.

"It's the runways," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Neither the airlines nor the FAA have yet to explain how NextGen (modernized air traffic control system) is going to allow them to get more than one operation per minute on a runway."

Thirty takeoffs and 30 landings per hour is the theoretical maximum for a runway in optimal conditions, according the FAA's Capacity Modeling and Analysis Group.

For example, the FAA's Airport Capacity Benchmark report shows that New York's JFK airport can handle one flight every 41 seconds during optimal visual conditions, using two runways simultaneously. Yet to meet the airlines' schedules during some of the "push" times, air traffic controllers would have to get an airliner on or off the runway every 36 seconds. During instrument conditions (visibility less than three miles or ceiling less than 1,000 feet), the FAA says the maximum is 17 flights every 15 minutes; the airlines have scheduled up to 25.

While the airlines try to point the finger at the number of corporate jets flying to and from New York, general aviation aircraft accounted for only 2.3 percent of the traffic at the hub airports of JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark during the first six months of 2007.

Nor is the problem the number of general aviation aircraft in the New York airspace. "That's a red herring," says Steve Brown, the former FAA Association Administrator of air traffic services. Corporate jets using Teterboro, Westchester County, and other New York-area airports flew routes below, above, and around the airline operations into the three New York hub airports, according to Brown.

Air traffic controllers agree. "Corporate aircraft are not the reason for system delays," said Patrick Forrey, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers.

"As long as the airlines operate a hub-and-spoke system, putting fewer passengers on more aircraft, all trying to arrive and depart at the same time, system delays are inevitable," said Boyer. "More runways would help, but it takes at least a decade to build a new runway in a major metropolitan area—if local politics will allow it."

August 15, 2007

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