By AOPA ePublishing staff
The Department of Transportation must address the real causes of airline delays in New York airspace, not penalize general aviation, AOPA told Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters.
The hearing was about airline delays during the holiday season. But two congressmen clearly had something to get off their chests.
"Get off GA's back," Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) told the airlines. The airlines were represented by Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson and JetBlue CEO David Barger. They testified before the House aviation subcommittee on Nov. 15.
Said Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), "It irritates me to see in the publication in the pockets of your seats the distortion of...general aviation," referring to anti-general aviation editorials in airline publications and e-mails to customers.
"So quit it," Boswell said. "You don't make any mention of the taxation on fuel and the other things that general aviation pays. I'm going to continue to support you because I know that you're extremely important to our economy.... But come on, let's do what is right."
He reminded the airline chiefs that some of their best customers are also GA pilots and aircraft owners.
Rep. Ehlers pointed out that the "pilot in the GA cockpit may be one of your pilots some day." He noted that the military will be training fewer pilots, so general aviation "is going to be your source of pilots in the future. Just remember that."
"I want to emphasize that non-commercial general aviation operations are not the cause of congestion in New York," AOPA President Phil Boyer wrote in a Nov. 14 letter to Peters. "Ultimately, the department must identify a set of solutions that tackles the real problems without adversely affecting those who do not contribute to the problem, AOPA members."
AOPA also submitted a list of both short- and long-term recommendations for reducing delays, the most obvious being not scheduling more airline flights than the airports can handle.
Last September, the White House and Department of Transportation announced the formation of the New York Aviation Rulemaking Committee (NYARC) to look for "new steps" to tackle "aviation congestion and delays" in New York. AOPA is a member of that committee, along with the airlines, passenger associations, the New York area airports, and other "stakeholders."
Rulemaking committees usually arrive at consensus recommendations to the regulatory agency, but the NYARC won't do that. All suggestions from all participants will be forwarded to the DOT and the White House for them to sort out and act on.
The airlines, of course, have their own suggestions, including eliminating the time-honored "first come, first served" principle of air traffic control. During busy periods, they suggest that controllers give priority to scheduled commercial flights and deny airspace access to GA flights.
But AOPA pointed out to Peters that GA doesn't really affect airline operations in the New York area. GA flights account for only 3 percent of the traffic in and out of the three major New York airports—Kennedy International, Newark International, and La Guardia airports. Air carrier operations have increased 15 percent in New York airspace since 2001, while GA flights in the area have declined 9 percent.
Air traffic controllers have confirmed that GA flights don't affect their ability to efficiently move airline traffic. Business jets have "separate arrival fixes and separate airspace when they enter the New York terminal radar control (tracon) and they don't impede air carriers," the National Air Traffic Controllers Association's Eastern Vice President Phil Barbarello told the Aviation Daily in October. "In fact, bizjet arrivals are often restricted to accommodate airline arrivals at Newark."
AOPA offered other suggestions to reduce airline delays, including changes in ATC operational procedures to improve traffic flow, adequately staffing ATC facilities, spreading airline operations to more airports in the New York metropolitan area, and adding more runways at existing airports.
"It is important that the DOT and FAA have access to a list of balanced solutions that enables you to reach an informed decision and achieves the desired outcome to address the delay problems in the New York area," Boyer told Peters.
November 15, 2007