U.S. plan to ease air congestion runs into head winds
Some critics say a proposed cap on New York flights would raise costs. Others say better traffic management is the key.
An ideological dogfight is under way about the skies over New York and how best to ease the congestion at the region's three major airports.Skip to next paragraph
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Its outcome will affect millions of American fliers – because half of all delays in the country from Chicago to Dallas to Los Angeles originate over the Big Apple. At issue is whether the Department of Transportation's proposal to cap the number of flights at each airport and then auction off landing slots to airlines would end up reducing costs and congestion – or increasing them.
New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer (D), minced no words, telling the House Transportation Committee's Aviation Subcommittee that the government's plans were "hare-brained" – nothing more than "untested market-based ivory tower ideas" that will make things far worse. The Department of Transportation (DOT) shot back that Senator Schumer was more interested in "obstructing" efforts to cut delays than in modernizing the nation's antiquated air traffic system.
But some aviation analysts worry that both sides are failing to recognize a solution that could almost immediately ease aviation traffic jams.
"It's a case of misplaced aggression because they're arguing at the margins of a problem where there's already a solution," says Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Company in Port Washington, N.Y. "You can argue about this all day long, but you could solve it tomorrow if you wanted to."
The congestion is caused by the fact that more planes want to land in the New York region – especially during rush hours – than there are runways or airport gates to accommodate them. So flights regularly stack up in the sky while waiting for space to land. Since a third of all air traffic in the country either originates or passes through New York, those delays ripple across the nation.
Mr. Mann and other aviation analysts contend that better management of planes while they are in the air could easily reduce congestion. There are already software programs available that can manage airspace to maximize efficiency. They can tell airlines whether to speed up or slow down individual flights to avoid bottlenecks in congested hubs.
But the focus in Washington is on what to do when the planes are already stacked up in the skies waiting to land, say, at LaGuardia Airport.
The DOT contends that the best way to solve the problem is simply to cap the number of flights scheduled each hour. But there's concern that such a move could raise prices dramatically. So the DOT has proposed taking the landing slots that airlines currently have and auctioning off some of them.