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Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting For The FAA To Solve Nation's Air Transport Woes

from the the-sky-is-still-falling dept

The expanded use of private and smaller regional jets has been hard on the nation's air travel system, because these planes use up infrastructure at a level that's disproportionate to the number of passengers they carry. Of course, the problems we've seen all summer only heighten the appeal of private air travel, further exacerbating the problem. Making matters worse is the fact that the FAA has shown no inclination to find innovative solutions. As Lynne Kiesling points out, there are a number of creative solutions out there that could mitigate the problem, none of which are really being pursued. Airlines could be forced to bid on landing rights, for example, which would force companies to prioritize their routes in a positive manner. As it is, landing fees are based on weight, which doesn't account for the longer time small planes spend on the runways. It's also been argued that the GPS system could do a better job of monitoring traffic than the existing radar systems, but plans to go down this route have stalled due to politics. Ultimately, there's no reason to expect the FAA to be innovative. It doesn't face any market pressure and there's no risk of it going under if it doesn't adapt. Instead, the only solution pushed is to encourage airlines to stop using small planes, which isn't very creative at all. All that would do is reduce options for customers, particularly those on less-traveled routes.


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  1.  
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    KipEsquire, Aug 15th, 2007 @ 3:04pm

    Blame Government, Not Airlines

    "these planes use up infrastructure at a level that's disproportionate to the number of passengers they carry"

    That's only an issue if our "infrastructure" is fixed. And it's only fixed because the government has decreed it fixed.

    Stated differently: We deregulated airlines, but not airports or air traffic control. How is that the airlines' fault?

    Lay the blame where it belongs: On "not enough deregulation" rather than on "too much deregulation." Fault the government, not the entrepreneurs and cusotmers who are constrained by it.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2007 @ 4:26pm

    It's either too little or too much deregulation. Those are the only alternatives?
    Where's the creative thinking?
    What about collaboration between government, industry and user groups, for example? Oh no! That might limit the freedom of the airlines to do anything they want to, and damn the public interest.
    I don't give the government a pass on this either. It's government's job to seek solutions - except it's bought and paid for by political contributions (bribes).
    The departments are headed up by political hacks like Chertoff, and the like.
    Let's face it - we're screwed - and will get screwed worse until we start throwing the professional office holders out after one term. And that doesn't require a term limits law.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2007 @ 4:40pm

    Re:

    "It's government's job to seek solutions" since when is it the government's job to seek for solutions to private industry problems?

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 15th, 2007 @ 5:40pm

    Whose problem?

    Step back and think about this a little. Whose problem is it? I'd say one of the main groups suffering from the problem is the traveling public. Last I heard, in theory, the government is supposed to prevent or solve public problems. Yes, the airlines are feeling a bit of the pain, too, but I think the primary victims are the travelers.

    Unfortunately, the government hasn't had a very good track record on solving public problems for the past, oh, 200 years or more. So I'm not expecting a solution to this one, either, but in a more perfect world, they are the ones who should solve it (to the benefit of the traveling public), or at least take a lead in promoting a solution.

     

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  5.  
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    Joey, Aug 15th, 2007 @ 6:04pm

    The national airspace system is going down the crapper because of Marion Blakey and the Bush administration. Controllers are retiring at record numbers. The FAA is having trouble getting new people because of the lowered pay and jailhouse work rules that were imposed last Sept.
    A new hire in the FAA starts out at the Academy making just a little over $8/hr. Screw Marion Blakey and the FAA!!!

     

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  6.  
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    anonymous coward, Aug 15th, 2007 @ 7:05pm

    Capacity

    The current leadership at the FAA likes to talk about NexGen (next generation air traffic control system -- whose keystone is satellite based navigation) as a panacea but this is only a stopgap to a problem of not enough runways. It doesn't matter how many airplanes you can squeeze into the conjested area around JFK or LaGuardia or Reagan National, only one plane can be on a runway at a time. If growth is going to happen in the busy airspace near the largest terminals around the country, it takes more concrete. But there's just no space for more runways and approach paths in these areas. The government needs to look at alternatives in these hub areas that don't take such expensive, impossible to site and build runways.

    It's time for an alternative to air for the most congested corridors such as Boston to New York to Philadelphia to DC and Sacremento to SF to LAX to San Deigo.

    Europe and Japan use high speed rail to a much larger extent for such short haul transit. It's time for the US to invest some transit dollars in high speed rail.

     

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  7.  
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    anonymous coward, Aug 15th, 2007 @ 7:26pm

    Re: Capacity

    I think you have a very good point about the runway scheduling being a fundamental constraint. From what I have read about the NexGen system, it claims to be able to increase the number of takeoffs and landings per hour by allowing the planes to be spaced more tightly. But certainly there is some limit in that direction. I just don't know how close we are to it at the moment.

    High speed rail is a pretty expensive solution, given where we are at right now, and kind of inflexible and slow to respond to changes in demand if you don't already have suitable track in place for the new route. Perhaps it is a good solution, but perhaps there are better ones. I don't know what might be better, but I'd not like to focus on one solution too quickly, before there has been enough effort by enough creative people to be confident that we've identified most viable solutions. Of course, knowing when to stop studying and start solving is an art, and one relatively few people have mastered.

     

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    Andrew, Aug 15th, 2007 @ 8:05pm

    Its not as crowded as you think.

    Runway time is the most problematic but only at the largest airports (JFK, LAX, ATL...), after that its the # of ATC controllers to talk to, but there isn't all that many planes in the sky and even then this is only during peek hours. If airlines would just offer a few less flights at peek time and add more evening and red eye flights we would be in good shape. I am a pilot of my own little airplane, and I've flown from Richmond VA to just above Atlanta GA at 1-4 AM and not seen 1 other airplane or head any talking to the controllers who I was talking to. Why don't more people travel at night? Its sure easier to sleep through the flight then.

     

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  9.  
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    Dick Fer, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 4:54am

    I travel every week

    I fly every week. The news media would have us believe that the sky is falling. I've yet to see it. I fly in and out of Atlanta. And I fly in regional jets. Frankly, I don't think a lot of places would have service if it weren't for regional jets. You want to fly from Monroe, LA to Dayton, OH? You'll be on regional jets. There's no way the airlines are going to drop an MD80 or 737-800 or Airbus 320 into cities like Monroe, Dayton, Peoria, Ill, or hundreds of other cities. If it weren't for regional jets, I'd have to drive to 3 hours to Atlanta, then fly to Chicago, rent a car, and drive 3 hours to Peoria.

    As for the FAA, many people have unreal expectations of our government. Politicians and bureaucrats are not good at fixing things. They are good at standing in front of a TV camera and complaining. There are no problem solvers in the US government. If anything, they (politicians) create more problems than they solve. Corruption, pork barrel projects, or just plain ineptitude dominate our government. Bureaucrats are not incented to actually do things that benefit the citizens they serve. They are paid to cover their own backsides, and preserve the status quo. You will not find any bureaucrat willing to shake up the system. It would end their cushy desk job in a hurry.

     

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  10.  
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    Vincent Clement, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 5:55am

    Re:

    Canada spun off ATC into a privately run, non-profit organization and things are working out. I'm surprised the US has not gone this route.

     

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  11.  
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    Jim, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 7:44am

    Time on runways.

    The article mentions "the longer time small planes spend on the runways."

    I'd sure like to know what facts that statement is based on.

    It seems counter-intuitive, at best, to me.

     

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  12.  
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    AirIcarus, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 8:42am

    Moron!

    “because these planes use up infrastructure at a level that's disproportionate to the number of passengers they carry.”

    Moron! Most smaller planes land at runways that do not have a lot of traffic. Do yourself a favor and go to your local ‘big’ airport and count how many smaller planes you see. You will get a quick lesson in economics, why would a smaller, more efficient plane want to wait in a long line of big plane competing to take off, when they could land at a less busy airport a few miles away?

    “there's no reason to expect the FAA to be innovative. It doesn't face any market pressure and there's no risk of it going under if it doesn't adapt.”

    There is a great idea, lets deregulate the FAA. Moron! It did not work for the airlines, the electric companies (California)… Imagine, many smaller companies competing for a small government contract only to fail its users, oh wait, Lockheed Martin already did that when they placed their, lower wage employees as pre-flight weather briefers. Great Idea!

    “As it is, landing fees are based on weight, which doesn't account for the longer time small planes spend on the runways”

    Brain Surgeon Award of the week! Why would smaller planes spend longer amount of time on the runway? Small planes are lighter; therefore, less runway is required and they do not compete with the ‘big airplanes’ at the terminals. Smaller planes spend less time on the runway and do not create terminal backup like ‘big airplanes’ do.

    “Airlines could be forced to bid on landing rights, for example, which would force companies to prioritize their routes in a positive manner.”

    Genius, just kidding, still a moron! What makes you think airlines so do not prioritize their routes in a positive manner? Airlines just love spending money to fly people around the sky, just for fun.

    Do some research please!

     

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  13.  
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    coward, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 8:55am

    Re: Time on runways.

    Probably a generalization but smaller prop and turboprop planes are slower than jets. the time it takes to roll and clear the area for the next plane is longer since the smaller plane is going slower.

    Likewise if a piper cub (50 mph landing speed) gets into the approach pattern at a busy airport, a line of much faster jets (150 mph landing speed) behind get held up in a holding pattern waiting for the slower piper to land and clear the runway.

     

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  14.  
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    Danny, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 9:57am

    Re:

    Keep in mind that most small prop planes are not going to land at busy, international airports. Why go to one of those when you can land at a smaller, general aviation-oriented airport only a few miles away?

    Also, smaller airplanes DO NOT take up more time on the runway. They are lighter, so they take off at MUCH slower speeds than a jetliner will, and will use only a small portion of the runway.

     

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  15.  
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    Paladin, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 10:08am

    The Press Once Again Gets It Wrong...

    There is a whole new class of jet called a light jet or VLJ that is poised to change aviation forever. I am a pilot in training at Delta's flight school in Sanford Fla and this is what I am training for. Then theres "FITS" or the "FAA Industry Training Standards" program. Ths is a from the ground up, brand spanking new way of training pilots that incorporates senario based rather than redundant learning technics for pilots. It makes them/us more proficiant with todays new all glass cockpits and high performance aircraft. I will most likely never fly a plane with "Steam Gauges", or if you prefer traditional gauged cockpit. The highway in the sky project with the FAA and NASA, lets not forget that. An all new navigation system intergrated with the PICs, "Pilot In Command's", PFD and DFD, the list goes on and on. Please don't make me have to elaborate further. As a pitch man for the FAA I am most uncomfortable but this time the press is just wrong. By the way the reason airlines need to start making the shift to bigger airplanes is so they can remain profitable with their hub and spoke systems. The ability of the new light jets to move four to six people from say NY to Atlanta for the same money as it takes for a seven four seven to circle JFK once means regional travel is going to almost certainly give way to VLJs. There will be more smaller aircraft in the future moving smaller groups of people to where they really want to go more economically. Thats the goal. People who write about aviation should both be in it and up to date on whats going on in it. Thats my opinion. For the record the very first FITS class in the history of aviation is being taught by Delta's flight school. It started last Sunday.

     

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  16.  
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    Paul, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 10:14am

    Re: Capacity

    I could not agree more. What percentage congestion in caused by short-haul (

     

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  17.  
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    Alan Colon, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 11:01am

    Runways and Airline Schedules are the problem

    Over and over at large airports you see 20-25 flights all with a departure time of 9am (for example).
    The airlines KNOW most of those planes will be late, becuase you have 25 planes lined up to depart. The last one is significantly late. Then the passengers are late at their arrival, causing some to miss connections. Now those passengers have to be rebooked.
    The next flight that late plane was supposed to take now departs late, repeat several hundred times a day.

    The Hub and Spoke system causes significant congestion as well. I live under the approach to Denver International Airport. In the morning and in the afternoon there is a rush of airplanes coming in, then a rush of flights leaving. You get "rush hours" when connecting flights come in and leave. The rest of the time the runways are pretty dead.
    During "rush hours" there are more planes than runways, and the last airplane is very late. Add a thunderstorm, snow, or high winds during "rush hour" and suddenly the schedule falls apart.

    The FAILING AIRLINES have chosen this model, and it is failing. Rather than change the way they do business, they want the government to change the entire airspace system to correct a non-existent problem.

    Businesses are starting to fly in business jets, because the cannot afford the poor performance of the airlines. Now the airlines are trying to increase the cost of private air travel to kill off that competition, by claiming that private aviation is causing congestion. Funny, the several thousand non-airline airports in this country never seen to aircraft waiting in line to take off or land. I fly regularly and the whole point of private aviation is that I DON'T have to use the airline airports.

     

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  18.  
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    denny, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 11:43am

    Re: Re: Time on runways.

    Coward is obviously not a pilot... Speed in the air does not equate to speed on the runway and taxiway... Jets land fast and have to spend significant time riding the brakes to get slowed down... They also taxi like elephants, slow and ponderous... The Piper Cub would have landed and pulled off into the grass and stopped long, long, before the jet...

    I will also use this post to discuss other topics brought up...
    General Aviation aircraft, like my 5 passenger airplane, do not need air traffic control to fly the public airspace (notice that it IS the public airspace not Jet Blue airspace, or UAL airspace, I repeat, it is public property just like the roads and highways you drive... Are you ready to concede that UPS or Greyhound owns the national highways and you should have to have their permission to use it? Are you ready to be declared a "morning commuter" who is clogging up the highway and needs to be taxed and regulated because you are slowing down the big corporate trucks and costing them money? Because that is the analogous situation to claiming that the airlines have the rights to the national airspace simply because someone is paying them a profit for the trip...)
    I flew yesterday from mid Michigan to South of Cleveland and back on family business... I did not file a flight plan (did you file a plan with the state police to drive to work?) with air traffic control... I did not need an air traffic controller to give me permission to land at the small airports I used (Did you need permission to pull into Starbucks?)
    I do not need runways that are hundreds of feet wide and three feet thick with reinforced concrete that can hold up a million pounds of airplane. (my airplane weighs 3100 pounds)
    I do not strip search my passengers as they are all known to me...
    I also do not use JFK, ORD, LAX, etc. etc. etc... I would be in the way of the big jets and they are dangerous to me... So,if your trip on one of the airlines is slowed down by other airplanes, it is other jets, cargo haulers, Airforce One, etc., not general aviation like me...

     

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  19.  
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    coward, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 1:02pm

    Re: Re:

    True danny that most will not land at the large airports. But how 'bout those congressmen that keep their private prop planes at Reagan National?

    My comment cited a piper as an extreme example but the same is true of commuter turboprops. At airports with multiple runways ATC sets aside a commuter runway but that's not possible at LaGuardia or Reagan.

    Also if a plane is within 1 mile of the runway (approaching or departing), it's holding the runway for anyone else to use so it doesn't need to be setting on the runway to tie it up.

     

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  20.  
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    Alan Colon, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 1:53pm

    Re Commuters

    "My comment cited a piper as an extreme example but the same is true of commuter turboprops. At airports with multiple runways ATC sets aside a commuter runway but that's not possible at LaGuardia or Reagan."

    That's true, but again those are turboprops OWNED and RUN by the airlines. The problem is NOT general aviation, it is the fashion in which airlines operate and schedule.

    The airlines schedule it so these small turboprop airliners are coming in the same time as the mad rush of jet airliners during "rush hour".

    The delays in the system are entirely created *by the airlines* (even weather delays are worsened by the overscheduling of runways).

    The airlines treat runways the same way they treat passenger seats, they overbook and then make the passengers deal with the consequences.

    The core of this is that private aircraft have *NOTHING* to do with the delays and congestion at airline hubs. The airlines are trying to scapegoat private aircraft to avoind having to deal with their management issues.

    To echo Denny's comments, I flew from Denver to DC and back in my private aircraft (a 42 year old Piper Cherokee with monthly payments of $350) and, except for when I got near DC's 'security zone' I did not talk to ANY air traffic control resources. I landed at small fields away from major airports.

    As a side note, the airlines claim the air is saturated with airplanes. I flew over 4000 miles and except for landing air airports I never saw another airplane. The congestion occurs from airlines trying to cram more flights into the same 30 airports at the same times. The remainder of the 5000 airports in this country have no congestion problems.
    The solution is not to try to surpress non-airline aviation, but to encourage it. Let light jets and point-to-point flights bring those other 5000 airports into play. Stop trying to cram more and more traffic into the same 30 airports.

    Also, there are only 30 major terminal airports in this country. Three are around DC, Three are around NYC, Three are in Florida, Three are in California. Including NYC and DC, nine of the 30 busiest airports in the north east. Out west here, I can fly for DAYS and never come within 100 miles of a terminal airport. Mosts states in the country do NOT have a major terminal airport within their boundaries.

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2007 @ 7:13pm

    #18 by denny and #20 Alan

    Right on all points, guys. You cut through all the airline's BS.

    How come we never hear that viewpoint in the newspapers?

     

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  22.  
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    coward, Aug 17th, 2007 @ 2:03pm

    Re: Re Commuters

    Alan,

    agree to a point. yes the turboprops are by the airlines, but my reason in making that point was to support (much as I hate to) the FAA's assertion that the carriers have to start using larger craft. (something that others here have dismissed as silly). Much of the congestion now is from the carriers going to more small turboprops and RJ's

    However, when you state that "private aircraft have *NOTHING* to do with the delays and congestion at airline hubs" I have to disagree. When the GA uses teterboro, it impacts the approaches to newark and kennedy and laguardia.

    I'm not sure where I stand on whether GA should be paying more towards ATC services or not, but I get the feeling that the congestion at some of the busiest hubs could be best resolved by going to some other mode. Nexgen ain't gonna cut it.

     

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  23.  
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    |333173|3|_||3, Aug 17th, 2007 @ 8:29pm

    Re: Re: Capacity

    Medium-speed trains can compete with short-haul air quite successfully, as has been demonstrated in Britain, were 125-150 mph trains are used far more than air travel for internal journey, owing to their far lower price and only slightly longer journey times. 150mph trains would not require enormous upgrades to existing trunk routes on the east coast, and units such as Fiat's class 221 Super Voyagers, in service with Virgin Trains, are suitable for 150mph running on non-electrified lines. The main limiting factor is going to be the need to double many existing single lines, and to provide platform space at existing city stations, especially those where part of the former area has been sold off since the 60's

     

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  24.  
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    |333173|3|_||3, Aug 18th, 2007 @ 5:22am

    Re: Re: Re Commuters

    In Adelaide, which has a medium level of traffic, there is very little GA traffic, which instead is all based at Parafield, nearby to the north. Furthermore there is RAAF Edinburgh, also nearby. All these airfields are in a line about 30 miles long, and yet there is no congestion except that caused by the Curfew at Adelaide. This is achieved by having aircraft at Adelaide circle over the sea to the west, and approach for landing from the west (there is a second runway, but this is less heavily used), and aircraft at the RAAF base approach from the north, and Parafield traffic (light aircraft) approach from the east and land from the north. It is clearly possible for several airfields in one area to operate without causing congestion at each other, provided thier routes are carefully planned.
    Another example of this is London, where Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted are all fairly close to each other, as well as city central, and a few RAF bases.

     

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