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"Air Traffic Paralysis"
Tuesday, February 20, 2001
Air Traffic Paralysis
The New York (NY) Times
The nation's air traffic congestion can no longer be thought of as merely an
annoyance, or a nettlesome transportation issue. It is a growing economic
ill as well, and the Bush administration ought to address it as such.
Instead of seeking to cut the Federal Aviation Administration's 2002 budget
by some $568 million, as proposed by the Office of Management and Budget,
President Bush should develop a comprehensive long-term strategy to meet the
growing demand for air travel. Thinking of ways to speed up the development
of new satellite navigation systems and the building of new runways at major
airports would be a good start.
What any frequent flier could guess from experience is now official. Last
year was the worst on record for flight delays. More than a quarter of all
flights nationwide were delayed. The airport with the most delays was New
York's La Guardia.
An analysis performed by the Department of Transportation for The Times
shows that half of the 100 most frequently canceled or severely delayed
flights last year were scheduled to land at or take off from La Guardia.
That includes 7 of the top 10. Newark claimed two of the remaining three,
meaning 9 of the 10 most delayed flights nationwide inconvenienced New York
La Guardia is a microcosm of the crisis confronting the nation's aviation
system. The system's existing infrastructure is incapable of meeting the
burgeoning demand for air travel. That is certainly the case at La Guardia,
with its limited runways and terminal areas.
Yet last year Congress lifted a longstanding curb on further growth at La
Guardia to encourage service to new markets, and some 400 daily flights were
added. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey rightly prodded the
Federal Aviation Administration to intervene, and cut that number to a more
manageable level. As a result, La Guardia is expected to be slightly more
tolerable this year. The Port Authority and the F.A.A. can further
ameliorate matters by urging airlines to be more realistic in scheduling
flights and by creating market incentives to shift some flights to off-peak
There is no short-term relief in sight for the overall system, as
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, the lone Democrat in the Bush
cabinet, warned in his confirmation hearings last month. Barring a prolonged
recession, the demand for air travel should continue to explode. Last year
655 million passengers boarded a flight, some 200 million more than in 1991,
and the number is expected to surpass a billion in this decade.
Mr. Mineta is a proponent of speeding up the building of new runways and of
enhancing the air traffic control system. But he will accomplish little if
President Bush decides not to make this a budgetary priority.
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