Airlines in the US will have to trim their East Coast schedules and reduce delays. Otherwise, the government will be forced to step in and enforce flight limits, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Marion Blakey told Washington DC's Aero Club in a farewell speech held in her honour on Tuesday 11 September. (See:
Her five-year term as FAA administrator expires on Thursday 13 September. Blakey is the latest of several top administration officials to depart as President Bush's term comes nearer to a close. (See: UA FAA chief will become aerospace lobbyist)
She leaves to head the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), the country's main aerospace lobbyist, as its new chief executive, replacing John W Douglass, 66, who is retiring.
Pointing out that airline schedules sometimes are "out of line with reality", the FAA chief said, "If carriers aren't ready to address this, don't be surprised if the government steps in." Blakey's comments reflect the rising pressures on airlines to improve on-time arrivals, which have fallen to 72 per cent this year, the lowest since the US has started keeping track in 1995.
Such a move would not be without precedent. The FAA had negotiated flight limits to ease delays at Chicago in 2004. Blakey said, "Drawing down the schedule at Chicago was not my happiest hour. But it could come to that on the East Coast."
American Airlines and United Airlines still have flights curbs during peak hours at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, which are to last until November 2008, under the deal they and other carriers negotiated with the FAA. Delays fell 20 per cent after the order took effect.
Newark's Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and New York's John F Kennedy International Airport especially need schedule cuts, Blakey said. Along with New York's LaGuardia Airport, they lead the US in congestion this year.
Pointing out that airlines often made schedules that physically cannot be operated on time except in the most optimal circumstances, Blakey said that Newark and JFK, especially, did not have optimal days that often.
A Delta Air Lines representative said the carrier's schedule was developed to meet customer demand. He said it would take the combined efforts of the FAA, the air traffic control system and the participating airlines to remedy the situation.
Jim May, president of the Air Transport Association that represents the major carriers, said that airlines were happy to talk to the government about scheduling. But, he said, because of anti-trust concerns, airlines can't sit down together to work out reduced schedules. Besides, no one airline wants to cut departures or arrivals on its own, for fear another airline will step in and take advantage.
May said his group had suggested that the Department of Transportation appoint a "czar" to take a look at all the factors leading to aviation delays in the New York area, and come up with a viable solution. But Blakey said that while it is true there are anti-trust issues the airlines need to be careful about, airlines still can make short-term adjustments on their own for the greater good.