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Wed, Dec 19, 2007

DOT Announces Limited Measures To Reduce Air Travel Delays

JFK Caps, 'Holiday Express Lanes' Coming; Congestion Pricing Dead

US Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters announced Wednesday a series measures to reduce airline delays over the holiday season, and new actions designed to reduce congestion in the New York area starting next summer.

"These new measures will cut delays, protect consumer choice, support New York’s economy, and allow for new flights as we bring new capacity online," Peters (shown at right) said.

She said the new measures include an agreement to cap hourly operations at JFK International Airport, plans for hourly limits at Newark and capacity improvements for the region, and were based on input from a multi-month process that involved airlines, airports and consumer advocates.

The agreement among the major airlines serving JFK caps the number of flights at either 82 or 83 per hour, depending on the time of day, Secretary Peters said. The hourly caps will take effect March 15, 2008 and will be in place for 2008 and 2009. Airlines will be able to shift their flights to times of the day when the airport has unused capacity, allowing 50 more flights per day than were offered last summer -- just more reasonably spaced, she said.

Peters also directed the FAA to enter into negotiations to also set hourly caps at Newark International Airport -- to keep airlines from simply shifting flights from JFK to the nearby New Jersey airport. Effective Wednesday, Peters also announced new take-off patterns at Newark and Philadelphia International Airport that will allow aircraft to fan out after take off and provide more options for aircraft waiting to depart.

She said the FAA is working closely with airports and airlines to make similar operational improvements next year, including new satellite-based navigation procedures for the New York and Philadelphia airports that will allow improved bad weather routing, and allowing shorter flights to operate at lower altitudes to open more room for long-haul flights at higher altitudes.

Peters also authorized the appointment of an aviation "czar" to serve as director of the newly-created New York Integration Office. The czar will coordinate regional airspace issues and all projects and initiatives addressing problems of congestion and delays in New York. And as operational improvements increase capacity at area airports, new slots will be leased to airlines with the revenue being used for airspace and airport improvements in the region.

Heartened by a successful trial run over the Thanksgiving holiday, Peters also said the FAA and Defense Department will open military airspace to commercial flights over the Atlantic seaboard from the evening of December 21 to the morning of the December 26 for Christmas travel, and from evening of December 28 to the morning of January 2 for New Years. In addition, western military airspace will be opened from December 21 to the morning of January 2 to help accommodate flights in and out of southern California, she said.

"These Holiday Express lanes in the sky will give airlines the wiggle room they need to avoid backups, evade weather, and dodge delays," Peters said.

In addition, Peters said she has formed a new federal advisory task force that will help airlines and airports better coordinate when unexpected weather strands passengers on tarmacs and in airports. She also authorized the FAA to exercise liberal use of overtime to make sure facilities are staffed to handle the surge in traffic, and placed a moratorium on non-essential maintenance through the holidays so controllers can focus on traffic.

One item not included in the DOT's plan is so-called "congestion pricing" -- forcing airlines to pay more for slots during peak traffic times. As ANN reported, the agency bowed to pressure from an airline industry coalition -- including the Air Transport Association, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey -- which opposed the idea, calling the notion illegal and expensive, adding it hasn't been tested on a large scale.

Peters said she will continue talks with airlines and airports to look at ways to utilize broader market-based mechanisms to combat delays not only in the New York region, but in clogged aviation centers elsewhere around the country.

The Secretary also took the opportunity to press Congress to act on FAA Reauthorization, that she says would enable FAA to move forward with a next generation air traffic system. "By eliminating this single delay, Congress can help end aviation gridlock, expand aviation capacity, and keep our skies safe," Peters said.

FMI: www.dot.gov, www.faa.gov, www.airlines.org, www.panynj.gov/CommutingTravel/airports/html/

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