SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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PLEASE NOTE: The following transcript is a portion of the official hearing record of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional material pertinent to this transcript may be found on the web site of the Committee at [http://www.house.gov/transportation]. Complete hearing records are available for review at the Committee offices and also may be purchased at the U.S. Government Printing Office.
THURSDAY, JULY 27, 1995
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure,
Subcommittee on Aviation,
The committee met, pursuant to notice, at 9:30 a.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. John J. Duncan (chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. DUNCAN. We'll go ahead and call the hearing this morning to order.
First of all, I would just like to say that I'm very pleased and I appreciate the call from Secretary Peña that came from our hearing last Thursday at this time. We held a hearing on our aviation relationship with Japan and we had all three of the Japanese networks there and several others. Secretary Peña said in our phone conversation that he felt that our hearing was a major factor in getting results that were very favorable to U.S. aviation interests several hours later in Los Angeles when he was able to conclude his negotiations in a very positive way. I appreciate that call from Secretary Peña and hope that all of our hearings result in actions that quickly and that favorably.
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I'm looking forward to hearing the testimony of all of the witnesses today on an issue that is importantyou might say very importantto everyone who flies. Although the Department of Transportation permits airlines 15 minutes of leeway before a flight is considered delayed, I'm proud to say that this subcommittee prides itself in starting in timeor at least we attempt to. We're trying to get off to starting this hearing on time.
I think that the testimony from the witnesses today will give the subcommittee the opportunity to better understand why flights are delayed. The subcommittee has been hearing for some time now that more modern equipment and fully-staffed facilities would enable the FAA to more efficiently handle many flights that are now delayed by traffic volume or weather.
I should mention that, along with Chairman Shuster, Mr. Oberstar, Mr. Lightfoot, and other members of the subcommittee, I feel very competent that the equipment and staffing concerns, personnel and procurement concerns, will be addressed by the FAA in the form of legislation that we are working on together and hopefully will be moving very, very soon.
I know that I have many questions concerning whether we should continue the requirement that airlines report their on-time performance to the Department of Transportation. In fact, this hearing was prompted by the sort of flip-flop decision-making process by the Department of Transportation to exclude, then include, and now exclude mechanical delays from their flight delay reporting system.
According to the FAA, there were 247,000 delayed flights last year. This is a slight improvement over the 275,000 flights that were delayed in 1993. The FAA also reports that there were about 6.8 million flights last year total with an average delay of 14 minutes per flight. This means that there are about 1.6 million hours of delay each year. At an estimated cost of $1,570 per hour, these delays end up costing the airlines approximately $2.5 billion per year, as a conservative estimate.
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Apparently, there seems to be a lot of disagreement and confusion over the prime cause of these delays. A May 28 article in the ''Washington Post'' indicated that 65 percent of all delays were caused by weather; on the other hand, data from Delta Airlines indicated that weather was responsible for only about 7 percent of its delays. This, of course, is a very large discrepancy. Hopefully we'll discover, as a part of this hearing, some of the reasons why there is this confusion.
The FAA reports that in 1994 74.5 percent of the delays were caused by weather; 19.3 by air traffic volume; 2.3 percent by closed runways or taxiways; 1.6 percent by breakdowns of its computers, radar, or other control equipment; and 2.3 percent caused by other circumstances. I think we need to look into the reasons for such large discrepancies in these numbers.
The Department of Transportation counts a flight as being delayed if it does not depart from the gate or arrive at the gate at its destination on schedule with a 15-minute leeway. It appears to be a very simple and straightforward system. You are either on time or you are not.
Unfortunately, the issue is complicated by the fact that DOT and the FAA seem to have different ways of counting delays. This issue is further complicated by the controversy over whether mechanical delays should be included or excluded from the on-time performance report. This mechanical delay requirement could be good for some airlines who have a younger fleet, and it could cause a problem for those possibly who have an older fleet.
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would really like to hear the varying perspectives concerning the rationale and basis for this mechanical delay requirement and its effect on the aviation industry.
I look forward to hearing the testimony from our witnesses, and I appreciate very much all of them being here today.
I will now turn to the ranking Member, the former chairman, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. You made some very important points in your opening statement, as always, and I applaud you for holding this hearing and airing a very, very important issue for airline travelers and for airlines. The intensity of interest is evidenced by the presence of the carriers. All the seats in the audience may not be filled, but they are filled with a lot of anxious folks out there.
Mr. Chairman, you are right. You do start these hearings on time. But the airlines don't tell you that they start on time; they only tell you whether they end on time. Wisely, this committee has never said when it would end a hearing. We've got traffic delays that are beyond our control, too, like votes on the floor and number of people showing up. Airlines are happy when they've got a lot of folks showing up. We aren't, because that means lots of questions and more time.
The hearings today, as you pointed out, will focus on on-time performance reporting system established by the Department back in 1987. This subcommittee played a very important role in the development of those regulations. In the mid-1980s, shortly after deregulation, service deteriorated.
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There were many causes. Some airlines went too far trying to keep their costs down by cutting back on the number of employees serving their customers at various airports and points throughout their system. In other cases, airline mergers were very poorly implemented, with carriers paying more attention to the economics of merger than to the mechanics of merger. There were misunderstandings, confusion among employees. Some considered themselves, although members of the merged new airlinewhatever its name may beconsidered themselves still members of the previous carrier and continued to conduct themselves in the way their previous carrier did. There were confusions in maintenance programs, in service programs, in baggage handling. I saw it myself as I traveled throughout the country during those first eight or ten years after deregulation.
I wasn't the only one. Disgruntled passengers formed long lines at airports and complained bitterly to the Department of Transportation, to their Members of the House and Senate, and, of course, those complaints came to the attention of this committee, then under the chairmanship of Mr. Mineta with the ranking member being now Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The hearings and inquiry into this issue conducted by the subcommittee resulted in legislation introduced on a bipartisan basis. The original co-sponsors were Mr. Mineta, Mr. Gingrich, and Mr. Shusternow our chairmanand myself. The cornerstone of that bill was a program to ensure that airline passengers would have good information about the quality of airline service. With that information in hand, airlines would emphasize the quality of their service in their competitive efforts.
But there were other very important provisions of that bill designed to deal with such problems as cancellation of flights on economic grounds. There certainly was a good deal of that in the early going after deregulation. There was inadequate notice about discount fare limitations. People had a hard time reading the fine print, if they could find it. There were excessive delays in processing refunds for lost baggage and tickets, unrealistic scheduling of airline flights, overscheduling at congested airports, inadequate opportunities for passengers to contact airlines with complaints or to get information from the Department of Transportation. All of those were very, very serious matters of great concern.
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I remember our now Chairman Shuster at various hearings complaining vigorously to the Department, to the FAA, to airlines about each one of these issues that he had heard from, as had virtually all of us on the committee.
Our bill passed the House, Mr. Chairman, but it came to no good in the other Body, as all too frequently happens on important legislation.
The subcommittee bill, nonetheless, played an important role in improving airline service. Just the mere fact of introducing the legislation helped push the Department of Transportation to publish a monthly report comparing airline service. In addition, our hearings and our legislation pushed the airlines to schedule their flights more realistically, to make other improvements in service addressing the issues I mentioned just a moment ago.
All of those actions did lead to better on-time performance and a reduced level of consumer complaints filed with the Department of Transportation.
The subject, though, of today's hearing, whether mechanical delays should be included in the delays reported to DOT, is a matter of some continuing controversyor disagreement, at leastamong carriers. Originally DOT was going to exclude mechanicals so that there would not be pressure on airlines to operate aircraft with mechanical problems in order to improve their on-time performance. DOT had second thoughts about that issue and a new rulemaking is underway.
The carriers are at odds over this issuenot a surprise in the airline industry. American and Delta believe mechanicals should be included; Northwest, on the other hand, does not think it is a good policy to put any artificial pressure on mechanics to release aircraft that are not totally safe.
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We are going to hear testimony today from three of the heaviest hitters in the airline industry worldwide, airlines whose personnel, whose top management, whose mechanics have a reputation that would never let them knowingly encourage anybody to release an aircraft that is unsafe to operate. That goes without saying. They do have different views on whether this particular item should be included, and in which way. That's fair, and we ought to hear what they have to say.
But we cannot always be sure that every airline will place the highest priority on safety. In this very committee hearing room we had testimony before the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, which Mr. Gingrich and I were conducting, which showed that Eastern Airlines management exerted pressure on mechanics and pilots to operate flights when there was a safety question.
I shall never forget testimony of the Eastern mechanic who had tape recorded the conversation with his supervisor in which the supervisor said, ''We don't want no show-stoppers.'' That meant, ''move aircraft out, no matter what condition they are in.'' That mechanic was not going to put his reputation or the passengers of that aircraft at risk and refused to sign tickets. He was harassed, to say the least. But we brought it out in this hearing, and I think that is evidence enough to continue to focus on the question of separate treatment for mechanicals.
Rules must be developed by the Department of Transportation to ensure sound safety practices so that airlines are not tempted to reduce the margin of safety in order to improve their bottom line.
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We are also going to hear testimony today on the broader issue of whether air traffic control can do a better job of reducing some of the delays airlines encounter so frequently in the system. Can better equipment improve the routings that controllers give aircraft? Better radar to help navigate around weather systems? Better management of the air traffic control system to produce a more efficient and more safe air traffic system?
These and other matters will be discussed, including, Mr. Chairman, the bill you have introduced, which I'm proud to cosponsor, that would create an independent FAA, remove it from the bureaucratic tangle of DOT oversight, and give it more flexibility with personnel and procurement to do its job more efficiently.
I look forward to today's testimony. I think it is going to be very interesting, very important. I have read all of the testimony submitted by all of the witnesses already, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Chairman, thank you. I would like to thank you for calling this hearing, and I'd like to ask unanimous consent to insert my opening statement in the record.
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Mr. DUNCAN. So ordered.
[Mr. Costello's prepared statement follows:]
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Clement.
Mr. CLEMENT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll submit my opening statement for the record.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
[The prepared statements of Mr. Clement's and Mr. Mineta follow:]
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Lipinski.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll do the same thing as Mr. Clement. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Mr. Lipinski's prepared statement follows:]
Mr. DUNCAN. Ms. Danner?
Ms. DANNER. Mr. Chairman, I noticed that Illinois has quite a block of legislators here this morning. I have no opening statement. I'm looking forward to hearing the testimony from the witnesses.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much for being here.
Mr. MENENDEZ. I have no opening statement, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Mr. Chairman, may I interrupt just a second?
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes.
Mr. LIPINSKI. I want it clearly understood that even though Mr. Clement votes with us all the time, he's really from Tennessee, not Illinois.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Well, the Chair knows very well where Mr. Clement is from.
Mr. DUNCAN. We are glad to have him.
Mr. CLEMENT. Thank you for all of you being so concerned with my welfare too, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. We'll go ahead and start with the first panel. The first panel consists of Mr. John Lieber, who is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at the Department of Transportation and Mr. Bill Jeffers, Director of Air Traffic Services at the Federal Aviation Administration. Mr. Jeffers, I see that you have someone with you. Is that correct?
Mr. JEFFERS. Yes, sir, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Would you introduce him?
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. JEFFERS. We have Archie Archilla with us, who is the Director of Airway Facilities for FAA.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for being here. I understand that you have a joint statement. Is that correct?
Mr. LIEBER. Yes, we do, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. And you are going to give it?
Mr. LIEBER. I am, sir.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. You may proceed. Go right ahead.
TESTIMONY OF JOHN N. LIEBER, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR TRANSPORTATION POLICY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; AND BILL F. JEFFERS, DIRECTOR, AIR TRAFFIC SERVICES, FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION, ACCOMPANIED BY JOANQUI ARCHILLA, DIRECTOR OF AIRWAY FACILITIES
Mr. LIEBER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Oberstar, and members of the subcommittee.
I am John Lieber. As you said, I am the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy at USDOT.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I have a written statement which I'd like to enter into the record with the subcommittee's permission. I can summarize that statement now, sir.
I appreciate the invitation to appear before the subcommittee today to discuss the on-time performance reporting system administered by USDOT. Under a rule adopted in 1987, the Department requires the largest air carriers in the U.S. to report on-time performance data for domestic scheduled passenger flights. This rule not only provides valuable comparative information about airline serviceinformation which consumers can and do use in making travel decisions; it also provides the FAA with important information for their policy-making process.
Since it was put in place in 1987, the on-time performance reporting system has been a tremendous success. In the mid 1980s, changes in the airline industry, which Congressman Oberstar alluded to, prompted a dramatic upsurge in delays at U.S. airports. A major part of the problem was unrealistic flight schedules being used by the airlinesa practice motivated by the hope, albeit mistaken, of getting business and marketing advantages.
A year-long DOT study of airline operating performance showed carrier delays on as much as 60 percent of domestic flights. Consumers were outraged, and they let both DOT and their Congressional representatives know about it.
The situation today is radically different. In the first quarter of this year, the airline that came in with the lowest on-time performance ranking was on time with 71.5 percent of its flights. Consumer complaints are also way down, as indicated by the chart we have put up here on my right, which indicates that the number of complaints about late or cancelled flights is barely 10 percent today of what it was before the Department began requiring carriers to report their on-time performance.
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A number of factors contributed to this dramatic improvement. The on-time performance rule, we believe, is high on that list.
Congress deserves a share of the credit for this success story. As Congressman Oberstar alluded to, in 1987 there was a bipartisan recognition of the need to address the problem of airline flight delays. The rule I am here to discuss today is similar in substance to the legislation that you alluded to, Congressman Oberstar, H.R. 3501, which was sponsored in July 1987 by yourself, Congressman Mineta, then-Congressman Gingrich, and Mr. Shuster.
The Department has moved aggressively to assure the data on on-time performance reaches the flying public. Every month DOT distributes the data collected from the airlines to more than 75 media outlets and 400 consumer organizations. ''USA Today'' and other newspapers and magazines regularly publish this information and we're in the process of placing it on the Internet, as well. It is a measure of the data's importance to consumers that carriers routinely feature good on-time performance rankings in their advertising campaigns.
I also want to underscore to the committee that the DOT rule is extremely cost-effective because it makes use of data the air carriers already have. Airlines were tracking their on-time performance for years before DOT issued its rule. They are able to do this because the operating times of flights are recorded automatically by equipment on each aircraft. The additional step of submitting the data to DOT is performed via computer tape and is not costly or labor intensive. And the rule only applies to the largest carriers, each of which has over $1 billion in annual revenue.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In adopting the rule in 1987, the Department rejected other, more burdensome proposals that had been considered, including proposals to set prescriptive on-time performance standards for airlines. Instead, we adopted an approach which relies on the free market dynamic to create incentives for good on-time performance.
Mr. Chairman, I would now like to turn to one issue the committee is seeking to explore todaythe treatment of mechanical delays.
When the on-time performance rule was first issued in 1987, mechanical-related delays or cancellations were excluded from the required reports. The rationale was that the Department did not want incentives for timeliness to compete even potentially with the safety assurance process. In 1992, the Department took another look at the on-time rule, prompted in part by a DOT Inspector General review of on-time reporting processes used by the carriers. Based on that, and on information submitted during the rule-making process, the Department issued a final rule eliminating the exclusion of mechanical delays. This change took effect on January 1 of this year.
After the final rule modifying the on-time performance system to include mechanical delays went into effect, several events took place which prompted the Department to revisit the question.
In January 1995, Secretary Peña and FAA Administrator David Hinson hosted an Aviation Safety Summit Conference here in Washington. More than 1,000 industry, Government, and union aviation officials came together for an unprecedented hands-on working session to address issues of safety in the aviation industry.
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In his opening remarks, the Secretary challenged participants to conduct a ''ruthlessly honest self-evaluation of the state of airline safety and to help U.S. aviation move towards our goal of zero accidents.''
Secretary Peña personally attended several of these working sessions, including a session on aircraft maintenance procedures and inspections, which was chaired by Larry Brett of TWA. At that session, eight of the ten airlines who report on-time performance data to DOT were represented. At the workshop the Secretary was told that DOT had made a mistake when it eliminated the exclusion for mechanical delays.
As summarized during a presentation made at the concluding plenary session of the summit conference, participants in the maintenance workshop believed that DOT should remove the mechanicals from the reporting system because ''it intimidates maintenance personnel, it encourages unsafe practices, and the risks outweigh the benefits of the information.''
These concerns were expressed directly to the Secretary by the mechanics who were responsible day in and day out for our safety insurance in the aviation industry. These concerns led the Secretary to question the decision to include mechanical delays in the on-time reports.
The Secretary's concern that the Department had made its decision in 1992 through 1994 NPRM without all the necessary data was reinforced when the Department received correspondence from the mechanics, pilots, and flight attendants, all of them asking that mechanical delays again be excluded from on-time reports for safety reasons. These three groups had not submitted comments during the 1992 through 1994 NPRM.
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Based on this new information, the Department determined that it would be appropriate to revisit the entire question. Accordingly, we published an NPRM for public comment on June 5 of this year, proposing that the mechanical delays again be excluded from on-time reports. The comment period for that NPRM closes on August 5.
As this is a matter currently in rule-making, the committee well understands that I am not free to go into the pros and cons of particular action options; nonetheless, I can convey to the subcommittee the importance the Secretary places on this issue and to assure you that the Department intends to move quickly to resolve the matter.
Like the members of this subcommittee, we want to place as much information in American consumer hands as possible, while fulfilling our most important responsibilityprotecting passenger safety.
Sir, Mr. Chairman, this completes my statement. Mr. Jeffers and I would be pleased to respond to any questions you may have at this time.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Lieber, thank you very much.
Let me ask you this. I'm told by staff that DOT and FAA may count the number of flights differently, but we have a figure of 6.48 million total flights approximately a year in this country. Is that a fairly accurate figure?
Mr. LIEBER. I don't know that particular figure. Our understanding is that approximately 250,000 flights are delayed per year under our calculation systems.
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Mr. DUNCAN. We have that information from the FAA247,719 flights, or something.
Mr. LIEBER. Yes, sir.
Mr. DUNCAN. But I also was told that the FAA counts only delays attributable to air traffic control. Is that correct, Mr. Jeffers?
Mr. JEFFERS. Yes, sir.
Mr. DUNCAN. But the DOT counts all delays, even delays that could be attributed to other factors. Is that correct?
Mr. LIEBER. That is correct, sir.
Mr. DUNCAN. But you just said the 250,000 figure that the FAA reportsyou don't have more delays in your figures or in the way you count delays? I'm a little confused, because I'm told by staff that the DOT has estimated that roughly 20 percent of all flights are delayed, and there are 6.5 million flights a year. At 20 percent that would be 1,300,000 delayed flights. I'm trying to seeare we talking about 250,000 delayed flights or are we talking about 1,300,000 or some place in between?
Mr. JEFFERS. Mr. Chairman, if I could, please, I would like to draw some distinctions between the rule of delay reporting the Department of Transportation uses for consumer purposes and the delays that are reported by FAA.
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You were correct in your opening statement in saying that the FAA is not concerned with those airplanes that are delayed on a daily basis before they leave the gate. The delay statistics that we gather in FAA are solely for the purpose of measuring the effectiveness and performance of the air traffic control system. Our concern is: when an airplane pushes back from the gate, did we in the system affect the movement of that aircraft, delay the movement of that aircraft and, if so, determine the reason for it.
This allows us, on a continuous basis, to go in and look at the performance of the air traffic control system in any given location for any given day under any given conditions to see if we did the things that we should have done and, if so, how effective we were and what we should do next time.
What I would like to say to you is the relationship is not there between the delay figures as reported by the airlines to the Department and the delay figures that we in air traffic control at FAA gather.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Let me ask you this: you have reported that the number of delays has been going down. In fact, some statistics show a fairly dramatic decrease. Yet, a figure that I have seen several places is that air passenger travel is going to go way up in the next ten years from roughly 500 million passengers a year to 800 million passengers a year, and everybody tells me that's a conservative estimate. Yet, you know it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain funds to build new airports or to increase airport capacity at our existing airports.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Do either of you feel that the number of delays is going to start in the other direction and is going to go back up due to problems related to airport capacity?
Mr. LIEBER. I would defer to Mr. Jeffers on most of the detail. As you know, however, Mr. Chairman, FAA Administrator David Hinson recently said that, with the budget cuts anticipated in
Mr. DUNCAN. That was going to be my next question.
Mr. LIEBER. Yes. With the budget cuts anticipated under some of the current plans to reach a balanced budget by 2002, they were looking at, with the FAA, an additional 100,000 delayed flights using the 250,000 current as a base. Given that constraint, there will be as much as 40 percent additional delays. That's a serious concern that we are looking at.
Mr. DUNCAN. I have seen those figures. If that is accurate, that should be of great concern to all of us. How were those figures arrived at? Is that just sort of a guess that is pulled out of the air? Or was there an actual study done of that? How did they arrive at those figures? I'm not saying they are right or wrong. I'm just curious as to how we come up with those specific figures.
Mr. JEFFERS. I think the figures were arrived at through analysis in the policy office by taking historical data and adding in the increases that are forecast in aviation activity and extrapolating the delay data. I think it is most difficult to give you an exact figure, Mr. Chairman, because it would depend upon where the increases in traffic occur before you could accurately depict what the delays might be, and how this large increase in enplanementswe're looking at about an 18 percent increase in air traffic activity over the same period of time to the year about 2000 to 2002.
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I think that obviously there has to be airport expansion in the country to accommodate some of that; however, we are working right now with the airlines on a continuous basis to try to use some latent capacity that is in the system now. There is capacity within the en route traffic control system now and there is airport capacity at virtually every airport in this country during certain periods of the day that goes unused.
It is not just a matter of building airports. I think that will be one of the solutions. But we also have solutions within the air traffic control system that can offer some mitigation of the increases in traffic without substantial increases in delays in some cases.
Mr. DUNCAN. I tell you, the five minutes always goes by so fast. Let me ask one more question, just very briefly. What has been the effect or what has been the reaction since the rule to include mechanical delays went into effect on January 1? Can you tell me? Has there beenhas the DOT gotten a lot of reaction over these last seven months?
Mr. LIEBER. As I said at the outset, we heard from three very important groups that had not participated previously in the dialogue about this issuethe mechanics, the pilots, and the flight attendants. We also heard from a variety of different Members of Congress, including Senator Pressler and other Congressional officials. And we have hadI don't know the exact number of comments, but a fairly substantial docket on this new NPRM since we issued it on June 5 of this year.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Chairman, your questions about the numbers and how they are counted I think is a very important one and one that we should have both the Department and the FAA clarify.
The FAA does maintain detailed informationair route centers and towersbut the total numbers on air route centers may be misleading since an carrier on a trans-continental flight may go through several centers. But the figures are very impressive.
In 1994, 20 million flights were handled by en route centers, and a forecast by 1998, surprisingly, of 21 million. I think it is going to be much more than that, but that's a very conservative estimate.
The total number of flightsair carriers and military and general aviationwas 38 million for 1994 and 42 million forecast for 1998.
And towers handled substantially greater amount of traffic because of the way the hub and spoke system works, but that was 60 million carrier handled by the towers in 1994 and 65 million forecast for 1998. Those are powerful numbersfigures that in and of themselves may contribute to delay.
Is the reduction in statisticsand between 1994 and 1991, which was sort of a bench mark year because of the Gulf War and the economic pressuresthere has been a 17 percent reduction in total air space system delays. What is the role or has been the role, if any, on the on-time performance data publishing? Has that been a pressure more on the airlines? Has that been a pressure more on air traffic control system to work more efficiently and effectively to get delays down? Or how much is due to more realistic scheduling by the airlines?
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Mr. LIEBER. I think your point is well taken, Congressman. It is, in part, due to more realistic scheduling by the airlines. That's fortunate because for so long consumers were mislead and folks at the other end who were waiting to pick them up arrived at the terminal early, and there is an awful lot of wasted time and energy when unrealistic flight schedules are used, so we think that is a dramatic improvement.
As for the other causes of the improvement in on-time performance, we credit, in large part, the airlines who are always working to try to improve their hub and spoke system to improve their management of their own operations, and we credit the FAA. I think Mr. Jeffers could tell you more about what they have done to try to improve the management of the air traffic system.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Briefly.
Mr. JEFFERS. We have a number of things going, Congressman, that I think have contributed to the reduction in delays over the last few years, and we are certainly in the middle of trying to do some more.
We have at certain airportsNewark, most notablyNewark last year jumped up to being the number one delayed airport in our system. With work that we have done with the airlines and with the Port Authority, Newark has now dropped to number five. That's just a cooperative effort between everybody involved.
Within the en route system, we have started transitioning from what we called the ''National Route Program,'' which allowed airplanes to fly between certain city pairs along any route that they would like. We are gradually lowering the altitude in the airspace now and allowing the airlines to file any route they would like at certain altitudes.
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The data that we collect from Delta Airlines indicates that, of almost 2,000 flights in a recent month, they saved 1 million pounds of fuel, or $90,000, in one month just because of the efficiencies in the system.
We are working very closely with the airlines now. One of the efficiencies that the airlines wanted was to do some limited airborne holding in terminal airspace close to airports. The premise for that was that we were not getting the capacity out of the airports because we weren't keeping constant pressure on the airports. So we have a program now where we have instituted some limited airborne holding at most of the major airports, and that has resulted in increased capacity at the airports and increased efficiencies for the airlines.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you. I commend the work that you have done in air traffic control and the Administrator's announcement recently about the routing and changing altitudes and more flexibility for carriers to schedule more direct routes. I think that's very, very commendable and very important.
There are a couple of things that very quickly I'd like to cover. The question of ripple effect raised by American in their testimony and by Delta, which I think is validif a delay occurs at the beginning of a flight due to a mechanical, the airline is allowed to carry that delay through the whole day. That's their claim, and they say that's unfair. It might be all right to exclude it for the first flight, but you shouldn't be allowed to exclude it for subsequent flights.
But on the other side then, American says, ''We had a 40-minute mechanical delay out of Orange County to DFW. We held 12 flights at DFW to allow the connecting passengers to join that one flight. So they had 12 delays, in effect, because of one. How do you account for those? How do you respond to their concerns?
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Mr. LIEBER. I think that it is a legitimate issue and one which hopefully can be explored through the rulemaking that is underway now.
Let me say I think there are so many aspects of the mechanical delay issue that have two sides. The argument on the other side could be that if you did not permit, as you said, the ripple effect to be excluded, there may be some conceivably additional incentive to move quickly or some pressure for timeliness interfering with safety assurance because, again, the subsequently delays created by that initial mechanical delay conceivably would be counted. That's the theory of the exclusion of ripple effect mechanical delays.
Mr. OBERSTAR. My time is up. Before I do get to the second round of questions, I would like to have you think about publishing separately mechanicals in a way that gives the public adequate information about that particular issue carrier-by-carrier, and also publishing delays airport-by-airport.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. COSTELLO. Mr. Chairman, thank you.
I have two quick questions. One is: I have a history here of the FAA's position on this issue, and I'm curious as to why the FAA has changed its position on this matter in such a short period of time. I wonder if one of you can address that.
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Mr. LIEBER. I should probably take that, Congressman, because this historically has beenthe consumer on-time performance reporting system has been administered outside the FAA by different parts of the Department, including the Office of the Secretary.
The issue here, in response to your question about why we reopened this, was that the Secretary felt, based on information that came to his attention shortly after the change went into effect, that the 1990 through 1994 NPRM which resulted in including mechanical delays may not have taken account of all of the important information. He just felt that on an issue this important, from a perception standpoint as well as from a practical standpoint, there might conceivably be safety impacts, we should revisit the issue and assure that we had full information. That was his direction to us.
Mr. COSTELLO. The other question concerns the issue of airlines that have scheduled flights and then they cancel those flights. I wonder how the FAA tracks that. How do you keep track of flights that are scheduled but at the last minute are cancelled by an airline? Secondly and specifically, how do you know or how do you determine if, in fact, the airline has cancelled that flight because truly there is a mechanical problem versus the economic factor?
Mr. LIEBER. Cancellations, under the 1987 NPRM right up to today, are treated as delays. They are equivalent to a delay in the on-time performance reporting system. Questions have been raised about thatlegitimate questions. As part of the current rulemaking process, we have asked for public comment on the possibility of separately accounting for and providing the public with information in a second report on what they call ''completion factors''basically the percentage of flights that are completed versus those that are cancelled.
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We think it is an important issue, as you have suggested, and we want to take a look at it and see whether that would be helpful to the public from the standpoint of consumer information. In terms of what qualifies as a mechanical delay versus a nonmechanical delay, that is based on the reporting that is done by the airlines, themselves. When there is a mechanical malfunction of some kind, as it has been explained to me, that results in a flight being delayed, the airlines are required to report it to the FAA and there are a series of reports they are required to make. Those, in turn, qualify, if they result in a more than 15-minute delay, as mechanical delays in the on-time performance reporting system and are, therefore, excludedor at least were excluded up to January 1st.
Mr. COSTELLO. I would hope that, as you go about this process, you might take a look at that issue. There is no question in my mind that flights are cancelled for economic reasons and possibly reported for as cancelled mechanical reasons. Thank you.
Mr. LIEBER. Absolutely, sir.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Costello.
Mr. CLEMENT. My question is for the Secretary Lieber. Mr. Jeffers, it is good to see you again.
The Department of Transportation initiated the on-time performance reporting rule in 1987 which excluded from the reporting requirement mechanical delays and cancellations. This is somewhat of a follow-up on what Congressman Costello asked a while ago.
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Based on a lengthy rulemaking and review process begun in 1992, the Department issued a final rule last September which concluded that mechanical delays should be included in the reports.
After the Aviation Safety Conference on January 9 and 10, you reinstated the exclusion of mechanical delays in the reporting, supposedly at the recommendation of the Conference. However, several carriers which participated in the safety summit, some of which will provide testimony later this morning, directly refute your statement that the summit recommended exclusion of mechanical delays as one of its top five priorities.
Is it not true that the co-chairs of the working group established which issues would be presented to the full summit and the participants of the working group did not vote, rank, or endorse the chairman's list?
Mr. LIEBER. Congressman, I understand the point you are getting at. Let me just respond by saying that the Secretary's decision to instruct the Department to revisit the question was based on the directwhat he heard at the Safety Conference, rather than any ranking of priorities or summary of the workshops that was done subsequently. It is the discussions that he directly had with mechanics and other people involved with the safety assurance processpoints of view he felt had not been factored into the earlier rulemakingthat led him to instruct us to reconsider, along with correspondence that was received from, as I said, the pilots and the mechanics and the flight attendants, as well as Members of Congress. It wasn't the ranking that was done at the Conference, itself, that impacted on his thinking.
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Mr. CLEMENT. Have you received any evidence since mechanicals became part of the reports in January to substantiate any suggestion that safety has or could be compromised by reporting mechanical delays?
Mr. LIEBER. No, we haven't, sir, other than the concerns expressed that I have alluded to.
Mr. CLEMENT. Some critics argue that a report excluding mechanicals is inaccurate and unreliable. They point out that a series of flights that are late during the course of one day are not even counted as having operated if the first flight experienced a mechanical delay? Is this possible? Can an aircraft operate eight segments in one day and never be counted in your on-time report?
Mr. LIEBER. As Congressman Duncan, the chairman, alluded to, there is this phenomenon of a ripple effect in the mechanical delay exclusion process. If an aircraft is delayed because of a mechanical, all flights with that aircraft are excluded from the on-time performance report for the delay; however, if an aircraft gets back on time, the remainder of the flights that it takes that day are counted so that the ripple effect comes to an end at that point, sir.
Mr. CLEMENT. If mechanicals cannot be included in the reporting of delays, how are consumers to receive accurate information regarding airline safety and efficiency?
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIEBER. We think that the consumer reports that the Department puts outright now it does put out reports that include mechanical delays pending the completion of this rulemaking and a decision on the matter. We think that is highly useful to consumers and we are satisfied, especially in terms of the use that the airlines have made of it in their advertising, that it really does matter to consumers, regardless of whether it includes mechanicals.
Let me just say that the Secretary has done an awful lot to expand the different kinds of information that are made available to consumers. We have an NPRM in process for potential disclosure of code-sharing arrangements for the types of planes that are being used on different flights. So the Secretary is very committed to a high level of consumer information.
Mr. CLEMENT. What type of analysis did the Department conduct to study the issue subsequent to the Safety Summit which would substantiate your proposal at the Summit?
Mr. LIEBER. The analysis is the rulemaking that is underway, sir. We have solicited views from the whole aviation community on what the impact of including or excluding mechanicals are, and our experts are going to go over that when the comment period closes on August 5th, and that will be the analysis that you alluded to.
Mr. CLEMENT. All right. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Clement.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Lipinski?
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Gentlemen, I have some questions to see if I have this straight in my mind. There are two systems hereone by DOT and one by the FAAcorrect? The FAA simply, from the time the plane leaves the gate to the time the plane arrives at the gate, that's what you check on and that's what you keep records of?
Mr. JEFFERS. That's correct, sir.
Mr. LIPINSKI. And if a plane arrives within 14 minutes of its scheduled time to arrive, it is on time, correct?
Mr. JEFFERS. Actually, at this point we are in the process of trying to develop a system that will measure delays down to 1 minute. We're working with the airlines to get data that we'll need to do that right now.
Right now we use 15 minutes. We don't use the scheduled departure time or the scheduled arrival time in our computation. It is a movement through the system time. For example, if an aircraft should land and we delay that aircraft for 15 minutes taxiing to the gate, we don't have any idea what the scheduled time was, but we know in the air traffic system that there was a 15-minute delay in the movement of that aircraft.
Mr. LIPINSKI. So I'm scheduled to fly from Chicago to Washington National at 1:15. That plane doesn't leave the gate, though, until 1:45. This is under your system. The plane was supposed to arrive in Washington, D.C.leave at 1:15, arrive in Washington D.C. at 4:00. But I don't leave until 2:45. I get there at 4:15. Time changes will occur. What I'm trying to get across, though, is if the planesay the flight was scheduled for an hour and 45 minutes. And say I left a half hour late and I arrive at my destination a half hour later than I expected to, but the flight only takes an hour and 45 minutes. You consider that flight to be on time, correct?
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Mr. JEFFERS. That is correct, with one exception. I hesitate to start throwing exceptions in. There are times within the air traffic control system where we instituted traffic flow management program. We hold airplanes in the gate at times when we can't accept them into the system because of weather, volume, or whatever reason. If we had issued the instruction that caused that airplane to be held at the gate, it would be counted as a delay within the air traffic control system. Otherwise, your scenario was exactly correct. If it left 30 minutes late, arrived 30 minutes late, the flight time was normal, for us it would not have been a delay.
Mr. LIEBER. However, sir, in response to your question, Congressman, from the consumer's standpoint that is a delay.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Let's just hold you over there for one second. I'd like to get to you in a moment, but I'd like to finish with the FAA.
Any time that the FAA is responsible for holding a plane in the systemanother example. Right now I understand if you hold them at the gate and it still takes an hour and 45 minutes from the time you release them it is on time. What happens if I am going from Washington National to Chicago O'Hare and the weather conditions in Chicago are such that you've got to fly me around the midwest for 20 minutes? Your system decides, in order to be safe and everything, I've got to fly around for 20 minutes. You fly me around for 20 minutes. I land. How do you score that?
Mr. JEFFERS. That would be a delay in the air traffic system.
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Mr. LIPINSKI. It would be a delay in the air traffic system?
Mr. JEFFERS. Yes, sir.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Okay. So the only time that it isn't registered as a delay is, as you said earlier in your testimony, from gate to gate. Now, why do you have a rating chart system? Why does the FAA have one system and DOT have another system? Now would DOT like to comment?
Mr. LIEBER. I think, Congressman, it has to do with the different purposes of the two tracking systems. The FAA is interested in assuring that their air traffic control resources are deployed effectively so that they can move planes through the system as fast as possible.
Our goal in the on-time reporting regime we've established in the Office of the Secretary is to provide the consumer with the best possible information about gate-to-gate activity, as you saywhen you are going to get on the plane and when you are likely to get off. From a consumer's standpoint, it is less important whether the delay is attributable to weather conditions or to other factors, but whether they actually arrive at the gate on time.
Mr. LIPINSKI. When an airline advertises their on-time accuracy they are using the figures from DOT?
Mr. LIEBER. Yes, sir.
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Mr. LIPINSKI. Do they ever use the figures from the FAA?
Mr. JEFFERS. No, sir. I wouldn't think so.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Is there anything that would prohibit them from using the FAA figures?
Mr. JEFFERS. Yes, sir, there is. We do not collect delay data on an aircraft-by-aircraft basis. We collect it on the number of aircraft in a given area that are delayed. For example, yesterday I think we had some 600 delays in the system. We do not have that by aircraft number. We could probably get that through some laborious process.
We are working again with the airlines to make sure that our data that we are using for delays is more closely aligned with the data that they collect every day, and we are going to start exchanging data to improve the accuracy of the delay reporting.
Mr. LIPINSKI. Thank you. I see my time has expired, but I ask the chairman's indulgence just for 30 seconds. What the DOT puts out is supposedly for the consumer to make a judgment call on what airline he or she wishes to fly on. It would just seem to me to be totally accurate and informative to the public that you would include everything that contributes to a delaymechanical, anything else that you can think ofbecause if your principal reason for putting out this report is for consumer information, to have a truly informed consumer public out there, I believe that you should include everything in your report.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Lipinski.
Ms. DANNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Help me understand what you define as a mechanical delay. Let me be very specific. Recently flying home we were delayed out of the gate because the flight attendants were not able to lock the door to the cockpit. Do you consider that a mechanical delay when they simply can't lock the door to the cockpit and therefore we can't take off? Yes, heads are nodding. I don't know if you know the answer, but all your colleagues are saying yes, that's a mechanical delay.
I have to say I find that an extreme example of a mechanical delay. It seem to me that's something that maintenance should be able to address. So the fact that we were held at the gate while they were finally able to repair that door lock, which then made us lose our departure slotwhen we lost our departure slot, as I am understanding what you gentlemen are saying, that didn't count against the carrier because that was an on-ground delay that they had no control over, although the carrier had really initiated it by not having the lock work on the door; is that correct?
Mr. LIEBER. That's correct.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. DANNER. So that, although I was delayed in getting home, probably that did not count as a delay in that particular airline's schedule?
Mr. LIEBER. I believe you areunder the exclusion of mechanical delays, which is not the rule in effect right now
Ms. DANNER. I understand.
Mr. LIEBER. We now include them, since January 1. But if mechanical delays were excluded, as they were prior to January 1, that would be correct, Congressman.
Ms. DANNER. I have to concur with what my colleague from Illinoisas I say, the Illinois block because they have Tennessee blocked in between themI think that the public may see this differently than you see it technically.
Mr. LIEBER. I think you make a good point. We are maximizing the information to consumers. The only concern that has motivated us to revisit the issue was the expressed concern about however remote a possibility that it would interfere with safety assurance.
Ms. DANNER. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Ms. Danner.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Menendez?
Mr. MENENDEZ. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, let me ask youI want to sort of pick up where Mr. Oberstar left off, because that was my question. If we did not have the reporting of mechanical delays, then how would the general public know about the frequency of a company's continuous mechanical breakdowns? Would there be another way?
Mr. LIEBER. I think you make a good point, as does Congressman Oberstar, that it would be useful to provide that information to the public; however, as I indicated to Congressman Danner, the same issue is there. If it were going to be public and if it were going to affect their attractiveness to consumers, there might conceivablyagain, in theorybe some possibility that it would interfere with safety assurance.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Let's talk about safety in this context. Wouldn't a companyarguably, and I assume none of the companies do this, but let's argue for the moment. Wouldn't a company that fails to provide the appropriate capital for upgrading its equipment, that would fail to have the proper maintenance and overhaul, that would limit the amount of mechanical failures, that would delay passengers, wouldn't that be equally of a concern to consumers as a company that we shouldn't be flying because, in fact, they are not putting their money where their mouth is?
It is of importance to us to know that that company is not doing the right thing in terms of providing the capital, the resources, and the maintenance program that would make it safe for us to fly.
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If we take it out of the reporting requirements, how does the consumer know this?
Mr. LIEBER. you make a good point. It was certainlythat issue was a factor in the decision to include mechanical delays in the past. Let me say this though: this rule only applies to the biggest airlines, I think the ones that are most heavily invested in their operations and in the capital issues that you referred to.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Let me ask you then, moving on to two other questions: as I understood your descriptions before of what is on time and what is not, I'm at the gate, I'm in the plane, and the plane moves away from the gate but sits on the runway for an hour. Technically is that on time? If it moved on time within the 15 minutes, is that on time? Or is it takeoff?
Mr. LIEBER. I think it is the arrival time. If it arrives
Mr. MENENDEZ. The overall arrival time?
Mr. LIEBER. Yes.
Mr. MENENDEZ. So it is not any question of my departure departing from the gate; it is ultimately my arrival time at my final destination. Okay. I've experienced more than once the rush to get onto the plane and then to sit on the runway where it appeared to me that the airline clearly knew that we'd be sitting on the runway for a period of time. That is almost equally as frustrating because you could make a decision to chose another route, another plane, or maybe not take that particular flight if you knew you were going to sit down on the runway for an hour or more.
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Mr. LIEBER. Absolutely, sir.
Mr. MENENDEZ. That's not part of the calculation here, though?
Mr. LIEBER. No. The way it is set up now, what we're trying to do is to give the consumer a realistic sense of when they are going to arrive, given the constraints of the air traffic system.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Would the gentleman yield?
Mr. MENENDEZ. I'd be happy to yield.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Just briefly. The point the gentleman makes is something that gets so many passengers aggravated, but it is not the airline that decides to push back, it is air traffic control that releases an aircraft from the gate. Is that correct? The towerthat aircraft can't push back from the gate until the tower has released it.
Mr. JEFFERS. We only control the pushback of aircraft when we have a gate hold in effect. Other than that, the airlines can push back airplanes at their discretion, given the traffic that may be around that particular aircraft. That's the only reason.
Mr. OBERSTAR. If they are given a time in sequence, then they have to push back in order to meet that sequence in the departure.
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Mr. JEFFERS. We do not have any airports that literally have a time and a sequence. What we would be dealing with in that particular instance is, for example, in the example that the Congressman used a while ago about coming to Washington National, if we, in fact, had a traffic management program in for Washington National and were holding all airplanes on the ground in Cleveland or Chicago or wherever, then we would hold that aircraft in the gate and control the push-back. Then we would give a clearance to push that aircraft back at the appointed time. Other than that
Mr. OBERSTAR. I thank the gentleman for yielding.
Mr. JEFFERS. Other than that, the airlines control the push-back.
Mr. MENENDEZ. Two final questions before my time comes up so that you can hopefully respond. One is: what about the possibility of having a separate listing that isn't a delay issue, but having a separate listing that clearly gives the public a view of what companies continuously have maintenance breakdowns across the board and that would not create, per se, the pressure of on-time performance that is alleged to have created the need for the new rulemaking?
The second question is: on page ten of your testimony, Mr. Secretary, you quote the maintenance people as saying it intimidates maintenance personnel, it encourages unsafe practices, and the risks outweigh the benefits of the information. My question is, since we weren't at the conference, how is it that the intimidation gets transmitted? Is it by management? Is it by peer pressure?
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I'm reading other testimony of some of our witnesses to come, and some of them make a clearly different point that no person would actually risk the lives of their passengers, their co-workers, their own future in the industry by sending out a plane that is unsafe. So how does that intimidation that was alluded to in your testimony, which they supposedly spoke of, get manifested to them?
Mr. LIEBER. First of all, let me say that is probably stronger language than I would use in this testimonyespecially in light of the fact that we are in rulemaking. We are confident that all of the top ten airlines in this country
Mr. MENENDEZ. I'm reading from your testimony on page ten. It is what you quote as having been said by some of the participants.
Mr. LIEBER. Yes. Absolutely. We are confident that the airlines that report on-time performance data institutionally are absolutely protective of safety and committed to safety first and that would not intentionally pressure anybody, maintenance personnel or otherwise, to achieve timeliness at the expense of safety. However, I think the perception on the part of the mechanics and possibly others is that there is the potential, at least, for a more subtle form of pressure or influence that you have suggested when you referred to peer pressure. That is an issue that we are going to look at at the end of this rulemaking.
Mr. MENENDEZ. All right. A separate list?
Mr. LIEBER. I think that is an interesting concept and we would like to look at that and get back with you on it.
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Mr. MENENDEZ. Okay.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Menendez.
Let me apologize to my republican colleagues. I always alternate the questions, but Mr. Menendez and Ms. Danner had been here over an hour and I thought maybe it might be helpful to give my republican colleagues a few minutes to get their thoughts together, but I do intend to alternate the questions as much as I possibly can in the future.
Mr. Ewing, I'll come to you next.
Mr. EWING. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You are always very fair. That's why I was so shocked.
Mr. EWING. Without objection, I'd like to have my statement put in the record.
Mr. DUNCAN. So ordered.
[Mr. Ewing's prepared statement follows:]
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Mr. EWING. To those from the FAA, we've had some pretty bad outages in Chicago recently in our Air Route Traffic Control Center. What impact do these outages have on safety and on air traffic delays, as you report them?
Mr. JEFFERS. I'll answer the delay question first, if I could, Mr. Congressman. When we have a system outage, we have a number of redundant systems that we go to for backup. The redundant systems in the Chicago area have worked very well. The redundant systems in most cases are transparent to the controller, with the exception of a couple of functions that are not present and there is a slowness in transferring tracks, aircraft from one facility to another from a backup system to a primary system. Other than that, as I said, it is virtually transparent to the controller.
When we go to a backup system we are somewhat more conservative in the way the traffic is managed within those facilities than we are when our primary systems are operational with backup.
We operate the backup systems at somewhere around 90 percent80 to 90 percent of capacity of what we would most of our primary systems. So we will end up with delays if the traffic is such that we are in peak periods when this occurs.
I think on the last Chicago outage that we had a combination of factors in that area at the time. There were widespread thunderstorm systems all over the midwest on that particular day. I think it was Monday of this week. We attributed 58 delays, I believe, to the equipment outage and a number of delays to weather that we would have incurred anyway.
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I would like to assure you and the other members of this Subcommittee that we are very conservative when it comes to protecting the safety in the system. There are those who would tell you that there should be a balance in the system between safety and capacity in the system. We do not believe it is a balance. We will never compromise the safety of the system. We will always compromise capacity in the name of safety.
We will continue to put constraints on the system no matter how much it takes to ensure that the system remains safe and that the controllers are working in an environment that allows them to function properly with the training that they have.
Mr. EWING. Are equipment-related delays reported in your record-keeping? Are ARTCCC failures equipment delays or airport delays? How do you keep equipment malfunctions separate from mechanical delays, like on Monday when several Members of Congress missed votes?
Mr. JEFFERS. I think this is going to be kind of a two-part answer for you, Mr. Congressman. I think I'm going to probably answer part of it and Mr. Lieber will answer part of it.
For us, that became air traffic system delays. Assuming that the arrival time of these aircraft were impacted, as I'm sure most of them were, then they would result in delays reported in the Department of Transportation system.
Mr. EWING. We have had hearings beforenot necessarily this year, but I'm sure we willon the FAA's timeframe for updating its air traffic control equipment. Is it still as far behind schedule as it was, or are we making any progress?
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Mr. ARCHILLA. Congressman, the equipment that will replace the Display Channel Complex, which was the computer that failed at the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center, is a system that will be known as a Display System Replacement program. That was a result of a restructuring of the Advanced Automation System that the Agency was procuring, and that occurred in 1994.
We are confident that the schedules that the program office has, and that the vendor is working toward, will allow for the replacement of the equipment. Specifically, in Chicago I think it is scheduled to be delivered in February 1998 and should be operational by February 1999.
Mr. EWING. What was the original schedule for that?
Mr. ARCHILLA. I don't have that information with me, Congressman, but we will get that for you.
Mr. EWING. Is it true that we are beyond that now, it should have been in by now?
Mr. ARCHILLA. Yes, sir. That is correct.
Mr. EWING. Can we anticipate a lot more radar outages at the Chicago ARTCC between now and 1999? That's a long time.
Page 46 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. ARCHILLA. First let me tell you that the outages are purely random events. Due to the law of probability, we have incurred four at the Chicago Center this year alone. The Chicago Center waswe use a measure of operational availability, which is an aggregate figure of the service that we provide to the air traffic service, as well as the users of the national airspace system. For the Chicago ARTCC, this figure was 99.43 percent up until this series of outages that we had this past week.
As I mentioned, they are random. They are rare. We take each and every one of them on very seriously. We have not only the local talent of the Airways Facilities personnel at the Aurora Center working on these issues, but we also have engineers from our technical support second-level organization at Atlantic City at Aurora working with them on these issues.
Mr. JEFFERS. Mr. Congressman, if I could, Mr. Archilla correctly stated the dates when the Display System Replacement is scheduled to be installed and operational. We are looking at possible interim solutions to this prior to the Display System Replacement. We are still in the decision-making phase on that, but it is possible that we could have an interim system. We have the same system in five of our air route traffic control centers that is resident in the Aurora Center. We are looking now at some interim measures for those five systems that would allow us to not have to go to 1999 to correct the problems that are occurring there.
Mr. EWING. My time has expired. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Ewing.
Page 47 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mrs. Kelly?
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you very much for coming to testify. I am interested in the graph that we have here that shows that air traffic equipment is directly responsible for only 2 percent of all the flight delays. If that is an accurate figure, one would assume that it is volume and closed runway and taxi, but in order to figure that out would it be safe to say that in some of these smaller airports where you have a certain air traffic volume that one of the reasons that air traffic volume is a higher percentage than it would be otherwise is that they don't have the air traffic equipment to get more planes on and off the ground?
Mr. JEFFERS. I think that the volume delays you see are the result of several factors. Most of those are not equipment-related factors.
At certain periods during the day there is a saturation in the air traffic system. We attribute delays during those periods to volume. When a number of aircraft taxi out, as an exampleand within some of the banks there can be as many as 20 to 25 that taxi out within a five-minute periodthat is a built-in volume delay right there. Those aircraft cannot get off the ground in 15 minutes. So that's the type of volume.
Right now I can't think of any lack of equipment problems that result in volume delays.
Mrs. KELLY. In other words, if we had better equipment or more equipment in an air traffic control tower, the air traffic control equipment, itself, it wouldn't improve the rapidity with which you could get those planes off the ground or back down onto the ground? Is that correct?
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Mr. JEFFERS. In some cases getting the aircraft on the ground has been improved by different equipment. We went through the Parallel Runway Monitoring program a few years ago that allowed us to run simultaneous instrument approaches to parallel runways. Those kind of equipment installations do improve the capacity of the airport, but at this point most of our major airports, while the equipment is getting old and we certainly acknowledge thatand that's not something that we've only recognized in the last six months to a year; that's something that we have been working on a long time. Indeed, the Secretary of Transportation and Mr. Hinson, the Administrator, have been very public on this over the last 18 months to 2 years.
I am not aware of any airports right now that we have that we have existing systems, were they installed, that would result in a better on-time performance for the airlines.
Mrs. KELLY. If you look at these figures, if I read them correctly, it looks as though the air traffic controllers must be getting a lot more efficient with whatever equipment they've got. It looks like whoever we've got up there in the towers are getting a lot more efficient, even though they are still using binoculars to land the planes. Is that about where we are?
Mr. JEFFERS. I think that there are efficiencies in the system, and I think some of the equipment that we've installed, and certainly some of the equipment that will be installed, the innovations will provide more capacity in the system. But I think, to really understand why you are seeing the dramatic turn-down in delays right now, we need to go back to 1981 and the air traffic controller strike. After the strike we had very limited numbers of people in the system and we put a lot of constraints on the system. We had a lot of miles in trail between aircraft in the en route environment. We also did a lot of ground hold programs to keep the system well within the control of the capacity of the controllers that we had available.
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The system has been rebuilt. We have gradually removed those restrictions cautiouslythe airlines would tell you too cautiouslybut that's a lot of the improvements you are seeing now.
We are also getting much better with developing severe weather avoidance plans with the airplanes that allow them to fly more efficiently when weather is impacting certain airports or certain areas of the country. There have been a lot of improvements made, some of which are equipment related, some of which I would have to tell you are system related and process related.
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you. That's what I was driving at. How much of this is system related and how much actually was equipment related, because I know there is an interest on the part of the FAA to do something about equipment.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mrs. Kelly.
It is always an honor to have the chairman of the full Government Reform and Oversight Committee with us, and he is in the midst of some hearings that are getting a little bit of attention on something called Waco. We are glad to have you with us, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. CLINGER. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'm happy to be here.
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There is just one question. I'm sorry I wasn't here to hear your testimony, gentlemen, but appreciate your presence and your input.
On this question of the exclusion of the mechanicals, one of the concerns raised by the airline testimony that comes later isand maybe you have answered thisthat that's an incentive then to categorize the delay as mechanical because that would, in effect, exclude the need to report it, and therefore we would begin to get some somewhat spurious or distorted data. Your response?
Mr. LIEBER. All of the mechanical delays occasion a prompt report to the FAA, so they are able to take a look at the circumstance that led to the classification as a mechanical delay.
Mr. CLINGER. So, because there will be a reporting of that data, even though it will not become a part of the published or the public information
Mr. LIEBER. That's true, Congressman. And let me say that when the DOT's Inspector General looked at that issue some years ago they found that there was not any pattern of misclassification of delays as mechanical delays to gain the advantage that you suggested they might be interested in.
Mr. CLINGER. Thank you very much. And thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Clinger.
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Let me start just a brief second round of questions, because we've got some other witnesses. I would say that I feel like I have a pretty open mind on this issue, but let me ask this question, Mr. Lieber. You mentioned in your testimony and in response to questions that you felt the reporting or the including of these mechanical delays had been very useful information to the consumer. Those were the words you used. And then at another point you said the Secretary was committed to the highest level or degree of information; yet, excluding this information would seem to go contrary to what you were saying. Is that fair?
Mr. LIEBER. No. What I was trying to suggest was that I understand why consumers might, indeed, be interested in having that information, and we recognized that numerous times in the past NPRM and reflected in the statement of final rule. However, the Secretary again, on the other side of the issue, feels that, regardless of all the other considerations, we have to fasten and focus on safety issue and asked us to reexamine it for that reason.
Mr. DUNCAN. When I asked you a few minutes ago about the reaction and you mentioned, as you did in your testimony, about the groups that had contacted youand I think you sort of mentioned this in response to another question, but have you heard even anonymously from any employee of any airline on their own that they have felt pressure to do something that they shouldn't have done in regard to these so that a mechanical delay wouldn't have to be included?
Mr. LIEBER. No.
Page 52 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. You haven't?
Mr. LIEBER. Not to my knowledge, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. You have no evidence that safety has been impaired?
Mr. LIEBER. Not to my knowledge, Mr. Chairman, however the comment period is still open for another month and Congressman Oberstar alluded to an incident some years ago where there was a suggestion of an explicit effort to influence a mechanic.
Mr. DUNCAN. Let me ask you another question then, and that's about the cost. Has this rulemaking procedure that resulted in the new rule that took effect January 1that was the culmination of a pretty lengthy process at your Department. Do you have any estimate or figure or guesstimate aboutI assume that did have some cost to the Department. And then, going from that, has it been a cost of any significance to the airlines to change and then change and now maybe change again, and so forth? Does that cost anything to the airlines?
Mr. LIEBER. In response to your first question, I don't know what the cost to the Department of the 1992 through 1994 rulemaking was. We could take a look at that and respond to you.
As for the cost to the airlines of altering their reporting systems to exclude or include mechanical delays, excluding mechanical delays from their reports added an additional cost of about $15,000 per year, as I understand it, to code the data to exclude the mechanicals. Now, with the mechanicals being included, that cost is eliminated. There is an additional one-time $3,000 reprogramming cost whichever way the issue is resolved if there is a change on whether mechanicals are excluded or included per airline.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I was going to point outI'll do it anyway, for the record, for our colleague from Illinois, Mr. Ewing, who asked questions about the schedule of the modernization program for advanced automation system. The subcommittee does receive a monthly report from FAA tracking each one of the technology systems, its status, and the degree of compliance by the contractor. I think that I'll point that out to Mr. Ewing later so that he can avail himself of that information.
Also, the Department does publish the air travel consumer report document that does listand I had forgotten thisthe percentage of carrier-reported flight operations arriving on time by airport and time of day, in fact. It is an hourly report. So you needn't respond further to that question. I had forgotten about that.
I did raise the question raised in subsequent testimony by carriers about two types of concerns. One, short-haul versus long-haul operations that anyAmerican says any reporting system will favor short-haul operations over long-haul operations. I don't know that they suggest not having an on-time reporting, but they just point this out as a flaw in the system. Is there any way of accommodating any such concern by carriers?
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIEBER. I think it is a legitimate point. Let me say that right now, because of the success of the on-time performance reporting system, the consumer can receive on-time performance rankings or information about an individual flight, an individual route segment, from an airline reservationist, as I understand it. They can get that information so they could be comparative among different airlines and have specific information.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I will have discussion with those carriers when the appropriate time comes, because there are some factors they are not taking into account as they make that concern.
American says by exempting mechanical delays you are ''inviting carriers to characterize delays as mechanical delays whenever possible.'' I know of no information in the IG reportI took that one back to the IG report and found no evidence to support it. Do you have evidence to support that statement?
Mr. LIEBER. No. As you suggest, the IG found that there was no evidence of intentional misclassification of delays as mechanical.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Carriers at one time did, though, have an incentive to file short schedule times because that was a factor in influencing how a schedule would appear in the computer reservation system. Is that still the case?
Mr. LIEBER. Much less so because, number one, the on-time performance data has encouraged them to adopt realistic schedules. Simultaneously, the way the computer reservation systems operate has been changed so that, as I understand it, no longer are the shortest flights given preference in terms of display on computer reservation systems.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. I think my experience is the big headache is when you've completed your flight on the jet aircraft and you go to, as my constituents call it, ''those puddle jumpers,'' and we have to get on one of those airplanes with propellers. They are not always on time. There are all kinds of delays. People say, ''air traffic control favors the big jets and our little commuter aircraft get short shrift. We are always waiting on the ground.'' Mr. Jeffers?
Mr. JEFFERS. Certainly I take exception to that, sir.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I'm going to take you along with me. You just fly with me.
Mr. JEFFERS. I understand, but I would tell you, Congressman, that, to the extent that we possibly can, we operate the air traffic control system on a first come-first served basis. This is not agreeable to everybody. They would like to have priority for a 747 over a private aircraft carrying two people, but in the air traffic control system we try as hard as we can to provide as much equity as we can.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Chairman, we could squeeze this cloth and wring this towel out and have a great seminar. I'd just like to conclude by saying that the 17 percent reduction in total air space system delays in the last 4 years is tremendous. An air traffic control system that handles 65 million operations at towers and 38 million operations en route with so little delay, given that our continent has the most intense, the greatest variety of weather conditions of any continent in the world, you do a superb job.
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Mr. JEFFERS. Thank you very much, Congressman. I'll certainly take that back to the men and women who do that job every day. Thank you.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Mr. Ehlers, do you have any questions of this panel?
Mr. EHLERS. No. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd just concur on the last statement. Having been here just a year and a half, and having had the opportunity to fly jump seat a few times, it is a very impressive operation. I'm always pleased when I get there. My only concern is the one voiced a moment ago. It seems that every cancellation I've had in the last two years, no matter what happened, was always a mechanical problem. That really makes me wonder if they have that many mechanical problems.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much. Gentlemen, thank you for being here. You have really been helpful to us. Thank you very much.
Mr. LIEBER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. Our next panel consists of Mr. John Lauber, who is Vice President for Corporate Safety and Compliance at Delta Airlines, accompanied by Mr. Ray Valeika, who is the Vice President for Technical Operations for Delta; Mr. Robert W. Baker, Executive Vice President for Operations for American Airlines; and Mr. John Kern, Vice President for Aircraft Operations and Chief Safety Officer for Northwest Airlines.
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Gentlemen, thank you very much for being here. I generally leave it to the witnesses on the panel to determine which witness goes first, and so whatever is your preference. You decide among yourselves who wants to go first.
Mr. Baker, you are going to proceed. Is that correct?
Mr. BAKER. Strictly alphabetical, I'm sure.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much. You may begin your testimony.
TESTIMONY OF ROBERT W. BAKER, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT-OPERATIONS, AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC.; JOHN LAUBER, VICE PRESIDENT, CORPORATE SAFETY AND COMPLIANCE, DELTA AIRLINES, ACCOMPANIED BY RAY VALEIKA, VICE PRESIDENT, TECHNICAL OPERATIONS, DELTA AIRLINES; AND JOHN S. KERN, VICE PRESIDENT, AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS AND CHIEF SAFETY OFFICER, NORTHWEST AIRLINES, INC
Mr. BAKER. Good morning, Mr. Chairman. I very much appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today to address the views of American Airlines on the reason for and the reporting of airline flight delays.
American Airlines was a major proponent of dependability reporting in 1987 and continues to support reporting, both as an aid to consumers and as an impetus to the carriers to improve our customer service. However, if these reports are going to have integrity and consumer credibility, they must include all delays, including mechanical delays.
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The counter argument that safety would be compromised by mechanics in their zeal to avoid reportable delays is wholly without merit and, frankly, is insulting to the professionalism of these thoroughly safety-conscious airline employees.
First, as to the reasons for flight delays, airlines have a few more challenges than some other modes of transportation as a result of, first, the relative complexity of our aircraft and, second, the necessity to have everything correct before we start up.
At American we track some 74 categories of reasons for delays, many of which have several subcategories; however, they tend to fall into five main groupings.
The first one is safety and security relatedsuch things as mechanical problems, security searches or investigations, weight or balance problems, weather at either the origin or the destination airport, airport or runway closures, and what we call a category of delays ''crew precautionary'' in which a crew member, either cockpit or cabin, exercises his or her authority to make sure that a safety item is taken care of before departing the gate.
The second category involves passenger service delays. These include delays in boarding, catering, cleaning, processing stand-bys or oversales, connecting baggage and passengers, and dealing with passenger illness or mobility needs.
Third, congestion delays. These are generally air traffic control delays, ramp congestion which prevents an aircraft from taxiing, or terminal delays such as Customs or security checkpoint congestion.
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Fourth, logistics problems such as crew legality associated with maximum consecutive time on duty or minimum rest needs, completion of departure paperwork, adding more fuel at the captain's request, crews delayed getting to work, curfews at origin or destination and, finally, strikes by airline or airport workers.
The final category is what we call ''ruboff'' or ''upline'' delays. These are late-arriving aircraft, crew, or passengers from a previous upline departure delay or en route delay.
Second, concerning the desirability of continuing DOT's current on-time reporting, we support such continuation and believe it would be desirable to adopt more comprehensive reporting in order to provide better consumer information.
As an attachment to my full statement, I have submitted a discussion of some of the inadequacies of the measure arrivals within 14 minutes as a total measure of dependability. We believe that cancellations, long delays, and misconnected passengers are even more important measures of dependability than the so-called ''A plus 14.''
Finally, the desirability of including all delays in delay reporting is obvious. The notion that mechanics would sign of an unsafe airplane to avoid a delay is simply and absolutely unreasonable. As a chief operations officer of American Airlines, I am responsible for all aspects of our operation, and everyone at American knows that safety comes first, second, and third. No mechanic would jeopardize the lives of customers and fellow workers, as well as his or her career, to give a possible boost in a DOT dependability statistic.
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I have entered in the record this morning a letter from the labor union that represents our mechanics, the Transport Workers Union, in which they support completely the notion that no mechanic would ever undertake such a tactic. But you need not simply take my word for it since we have been reporting mechanical delays to DOT for six months now. Using historical schedule information, we have been able to determine that the level of mechanical delays that would have been reported to DOT if mechanical delay reporting had been required prior to this year. If we were sending out unsafe aircraft to avoid delays, you would have logically expected that we would have reported fewer mechanicals this year versus last year. The data, however, shows, for American and several of our competitors, that nothing has changed.
As an attachment to my full statement, I have submitted a graph that illustrates this point. This is not a surprising result, for while reporting mechanical delays to DOT is new, reporting on mechanical delays within the airline is certainly not. We need to know where and when and why our airplanes have reliability failures so that we can change mechanic staffing, spare parts allocations, and unscheduled aircraft time. All of these have been a major focus of attention and energy within our company, and reporting such delays to DOT did not change a thing other than to give consumers a better source of data.
Furthermore, a mechanical delay can easily cause multiple down-line delays that have always counted in the DOT report. As an example, we recently had a 40-minute mechanical delay on a flight from Orange County to Dallas/Fort Worth. As a result, we held 12 flights out of Dallas/Fort Worth for the connecting passengers from one of these flights. This should make it patently clear that, although we believe that there is zero chance that a mechanic would compromise safety, as suggested. If someone did believe that, then the proposed mechanical delay exclusion is wholly insufficient to deal with the full impact of mechanical delays on our airline reliability.
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The fact is that once you exempt one type of delay, whether mechanical or otherwise, you start down a very slippery slope which jeopardizes the integrity of the data for consumer decision-making.
For example, there are often multiple sources for a delay. A single flight might be delayed because of an air traffic control problem and a mechanical problem. By exempting mechanical delays, you are inviting carriers to characterize delays as mechanical delays whenever possible.
During a two-year evaluation of the proposal to include mechanical delays in cancellations and dependability reporting, the DOT made the well-reasoned decision that the interests of the public and the industry were best served by dropping the old mechanical exclusion.
Now we are facing a knee-jerk reaction fostered by a characterization of the debate as being over an issue of safety. Safety is not at stake here, nor would the proposed reinstatement of the mechanical exemption remove the supposed threat, even if it were genuine.
Mr. Chairman, thank you very much, again, for giving us the opportunity to appear before you today. I would be pleased to answer your questions at your discretion.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Baker.
Mr. Lauber, are you going next?
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Mr. LAUBER. Thank you. I am, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right.
Mr. LAUBER. Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Oberstar, and members of the subcommittee.
Mr. Valeika and I are very pleased to be here this morning to represent Delta Airlines in this hearing into an issue of some importance to the airline industry. We will summarize our submitted testimony for the record and briefly hit some of the more salient points that we want to put before you this morning.
We commend you for holding this timely hearing. As you are well aware, the Department is currently reviewing the entire situation with regard to airline on-time reporting, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to present our views on that.
When the Department issued its NPRM in June of 1995, they proposed aand this was the NPRM that proposes now to exclude mechanical delays once againthey basically did a very complete and, we believe, totally unwarranted reversal of their previously very well-reasoned position on all of this.
Delta Airlines supports full and complete reporting of airline performance.
Page 63 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Last September, after an exhaustive nearly two-year review of airline performance reporting requirements, the Department issued a final rule which mandated the inclusion of mechanical delays in the Department's monthly consumer report. We supported and welcomed this change by the Department. Delta agreed with the Department that safety is not affected by the inclusion of mechanical delays and cancellations.
Let me quote just briefly from the final rule that was issued last September. ''The Department does not believe reporting mechanical delays and mechanical cancellations would cause an employee to compromise safety to improve an airline's on-time performance.'' They go on to say, ''The Department does not believe employees will violate FAA regulations, risk their own jobs, and threaten passenger safety by dispatching unairworthy aircraft to improve on-time performance.''
In our view, the reporting system implemented in January was the first time since the reports were initiated in 1987 that they accurately reflected true air carrier performance. The system prior to the September rule distorted accurate reliability and performance by excluding an entire group of flights. It was not a valid system for the public and the consumers to judge and rate the relative performance of the industry.
The Department also concluded in their September rule that inclusion of mechanicals would provide better consumer information. Again from the final rule: ''The Department believes that the elimination of the exclusion for mechanical delays and mechanical cancellations will provide better consumer information since aircraft dispatch reliability will now be a factor in the carrier's on-time performance.''
Page 64 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Chairman, the primary reason that is cited in the notice of proposed rulemaking in support of changing the Department's September 1994 decision is a recommendation allegedly developed by all participants in the January 1995 Safety Summit. Both Ray Valeika and I were participants in that summit, and we can assure the subcommittee that it is highly misleading to characterize the workshop process in the way that the Department has.
Importantly, Mr. Valeika was a member of the aircraft maintenance procedures and inspection working group, and I'd like to ask him to comment specifically on the process that was used there.
Mr. VALEIKA. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, as a member of the maintenance working group, the best I can describe the meeting was that it was a brainstorming session and an opportunity for the people in the industry to explore a wide range of issues of interest to each individual or to the group. At no time during the entire process did the individual participants attempt to rank or prioritize the issues. These sessions were not structured for the purpose of gaining consensus.
To illustrate, over 1,000 people participated in the two-day conference. A total of 540 issues were identified by six working groups. Approximately 80 of these issues were identified in the maintenance working group.
The co-chairs of each group were asked to illustrate the working group's discussion by mentioning five items that were raised in the meeting. It is important to note that the selection of the five items was entirely at the discretion of the session co-chairs.
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The chief safety officers of Delta, American, United, and USAir have written Secretary Peña reiterating there was absolutely no consensus from those participating at the safety summit and its workshops that reversal of the decision to include delays is warranted.
Mr. Chairman, I would like to say for the record that, as the person in charge of maintenance at Delta Airlines and a 30-year airline maintenance veteran, the suggestion that anyone at Delta would cut corners or even consider dispatching an unsafe aircraft is totally unwarranted.
In our view, the Department's reversal questions the integrity of our employees by fostering the impression that airline maintenance workers, individually or as a group, would compromise safety in the interest of achieving some arbitrary performance goals.
Mr. LAUBER. My entire career has been spent in aviation safety, and I concur completely with the remarks that Mr. Valeika made. I might add, while we are on the subject, that I was interested in hearing the testimony from Mr. Lieber this morning regarding this what seemed to be shifting sands of the safety summit with regard to this specific issue. We have seen this characterized initially as one of the top five recommendations from the 1,000 participants in the workshop and this morning we seemed to have learned a new term.
We all know that the regulatory process is one that we need to seek efficiencies in, and we have presently the ARAC approach. We had a few years ago regulation by negotiation. We now seem to have regulation by perception. It strikes us that that's not an appropriate way to go about dealing with an important issue such as this.
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Despite all of the rhetoric and speculation about the impact that inclusion of mechanical delays may have on safety, the fact remains that no single individual or group has filed comments citing any instances where employees felt pressured to dispatch unsafe aircraft to maintain an on-time schedule.
We have discussed in our complete testimony several other issues, including consideration of using a completion factor as a separate indicator of airline performance, the inconsistency in rationale of excluding mechanical delays when other factors such as weather, de-icing, and similar kinds of things that clearly involve an element of judgment on the part of airline personnel are not excluded, and finally the fact that mechanical delays have been included for the past several months and, again, no one has come forward with any indication that this has somehow resulted in undue pressure on employees to cut corners.
In closing, let me reiterate that Delta Airlines' management and employees place safety as our highest priority. Delta strongly urges the Department not to exclude Department delays from the monthly on-time reports and to require reporting of the percentage of scheduled flights completed. In our view, this will make the rule much more useful to consumers and more equitable for the airlines.
We thank you for the opportunity to be here and we'll be happy to respond to questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Lauber and Mr. Valeika.
Page 67 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Kern, last but certainly not least, you may proceed.
Mr. KERN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Oberstar, and members of the subcommittee.
My name is John Kern, and I'm Vice President of Aircraft Operations and the Chief Safety Officer of Northwest Airlines. I really appreciate the opportunity to testify before you today on this important safety issue.
I have had the privilege of testifying before this committee on safety issue many times before. In my former capacity as director of flight standards at the FAA during the mid-1980s, and then as deputy associate administrator for regulation and certification, I have worked closely with this subcommittee on various safety programs that have been developed over the years. We have enjoyed great success in many safety areas, but we still have work to do. This is why I'm appearing before you today.
It was during the mid-1980s while I was at the FAA that we all began to understand the overwhelming significance of human error as the single most significant element in our aviation system. Human error or human failure accounts for over 60 percent of the safety problems in our industry today.
In the 1980s, we recognized that a new focus on the human in the system was required. The industry and the Government have worked hard to bring about the beneficial change. There are now rules, operational procedures, more research, checklists, special training programs which are all focused on the elimination of human error.
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While early programs focused primarily on the role of the pilots in our national airspace system, these efforts have now evolved to recognize the significant safety role played by other professionals, including flight attendants, mechanics, dispatchers, air traffic controllers, and others.
Northwest Airlines' first guiding principle is: never compromise safety. This principle is reinforced day in and day out and manifested in every activity undertaken by Northwest Airlines. That is why I appear before you today.
Some in our industry are advocating a position that begins to chip away at safety in our skies. This dangerous position cannot be lightly tolerated in an environment that never compromises safety.
I remember the early debates that surrounded the idea of public reporting of various airline performance data. The original public concern focused primarily on the concept of honest, believable airline schedules. While I understood this goal, it was not my top priority at the FAA. As director of flight standards at the FAA at that time, my overriding priority was that public reporting should not in any way negatively impact safety.
My goal was achieved by the exclusion of mechanical delays in the reporting on-time data program. As you stated, Mr. Oberstar, in your letter to Secretary Peña, the purpose of reporting was to encourage airlines to modify their behavior, not to take risks. For that reason, mechanical delays which were beyond the control of the carriers wisely were not included in the counts. Your statement well summarizes our concern at the FAA at that time.
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I and other safety professionals were very concerned and, quite frankly, confused when the DOT announced last September that it would reverse the longstanding practice of excluding mechanical delays from on-time reporting. I really don't think the aviation safety professionals had a voice in that decision. In fact, this may be the reason that Secretary Peña has recently changed his position. I believe for the first time the Secretary heard the safety professionals speak at the recent safety seminar.
We were greatly relieved when the DOT decided to take the advice offered by these hundreds of aviation professionalsthe industry and government people who make our system run safely every day, the people who actively participated in the January safety summitwhich was, in fact, hosted by Secretary Peña and the administrator of the FAA.
One of the top five recommendations issued by the maintenance panel was that the DOT reverse itself and delete the reporting of mechanical delays. This recommendation was not lightly given. The safety professionals involved, including pilots, mechanics, management, Government, and others took their instructions of zero incidents seriously. The recommendations were analyzed in a comprehensive manner before being further analyzed and then published by the DOT and the FAA.
The recognized and reinforced the theme we began to pound home in the mid-1980s: zero accidents demands that we take every step necessary to eliminate human error.
Including mechanical delays in on-time reporting may well have an impact on the safety of our system. There is no legitimate reason for assuming any additional safety risk for the sake of more pristine on-time data. We can and should choose to eliminate this risk.
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I was not surprised to see that the safety professionals in our industry, including the Air Line Pilots Association, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters who represent flight attendants, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers who represent mechanics all filed comments with the DOT urging the Department to exclude mechanical delays.
In a move that concretely proved that zero accidents is more than just a public relations theme, the DOT has preliminarily responded to the request to prioritize safety by excluding mechanical delays from on-time reporting.
We commend the Secretary and Mr. Hinson for his wise move and urge immediate implementation. Safety should not be held up by the bureaucracy.
Mr. Chairman, I have heard allegations that suggest that Northwest is advocating this position purely for competitive reasons relating to our consistently superior top ranking in the on-time performance ratings. Let me put those allegations to rest with a fact.
For the first five months of 1995, Northwest Airlines has proudly maintained its number one ranking in on-time performance, notwithstanding that these data include mechanical delays. The June data is not yet available. We are pleased with these results, but our priority is safety, not on-time data. Our number one ranking under either system should quiet our critics.
We at Northwest Airlines do not and will not dilute safety in order to appease any parochial political interests. We live by our standard: never compromise safety.
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As we have heard this morning, our national airspace system is subject to an ever-increasing amount of stress every day. Mr. Chairman, the bottom line is this: if we expect to have a system with zero accidents, we can tolerate no more than zero unnecessary risks in our system. We may have had a recent period of no accidents since including cancellations and delays in the data, but we will never know what the incremental risk was.
As the chief safety officer of Northwest reporting directly to our president, John Dasberg, I worry only about the safety of our operation. I cannot tolerate any unnecessary risk, zero unnecessary risk, and our customers don't want it either.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Kern, thank you very much.
Since I generally get to go first on these questions, I'm going to go last this time and I'm going to go first to Mr. Ehlers for any questions.
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you for your testimony. I enjoyed listening to this. It is nice to see that you are not unanimous. It shows there is still some competitive spirit left in this world.
Page 72 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My questions are not directly related to your testimony. It seems to me that the important thing here is to give the maximum amount of accurate information to the American consumer. I assume you are all interested in safety and you all pursue safety and you are all going to try to run your airline as best you can. The question is: how can we best and most accurately and most fairly inform the American consumer? That should be the guiding principle for us in this area.
I'm a bit disturbed about the fact that a flight is not really, as I understand it, counted late unless it is 15 minutes or more beyond its scheduled arrival time. It seems to me that, again, can distort the picture. If we are trying to get an accurate picture why don't we actually list, instead of just talking about on time or not on time, just list the amount of over-fly or under-fly time and publish the average for every airline? What problems would you see in a system like that? Wouldn't that give more accurate information to the consumer?
I'd rather fly an airline whose average time is close to the scheduled time rather than one who consistently arrives 14 minutes late, which would indicate a perfect on-time record but they are consistently 14 minutes late.
I'd appreciate any comments you might have on that, or any other aspect of the rating system that you think should be changed to provide more accurate, meaningful information.
Mr. KERN. We all operate airlines that have on-time within 14 minutes of somewhere between 76 and 85 percent. Most of us are in the low 80s83 or 84 percent on time. We operate with a completion factor that is completed versus scheduled of 99 percent, 98.5, somewhere around that. We operate with a very high degree of reliability and with schedules that the consumers can count on today, so I think there is the data out there right now that consumers can rely on to make those kind of judgments.
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In the early days when consumers were being deceived by schedules and other actions of the carriers, maybe in the mid-1980s after deregulation, you couldn't count on that. Today you can.
We understand today who the consumers are. We understand that we have to please those consumers because they have other choices. So I think the data is out there right now for them to make wise choices. And the consumers that we deal with are smart people.
Mr. VALEIKA. Let me just add to that. Internally most of the airlines measure to one minute. We have this slight anomaly between internal measurements and DOT measurements, but I suspect that Northwest and American are very similar to us in that when we count mechanical delays and so forth we look at the total dependability, and then there are a variety of reports that go to a variety of departments that have 15-minute or zero standards, but internally we measure one minute as a measurement of our
Mr. EHLERS. So the data are available, but not reported.
Mr. BAKER. Congressman, we go even further than being distressed about arrival in 14 as the standard because that reflects only the movement of the aircraft but not the passenger. So if we have misconnected the passenger, that's not reflected in that particular data set.
Page 74 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We believe that our obligation to the consumer is to move the passenger from A to B in a timely way relative to what they bought from us. Today we really don't have the technology available to do that very precisely, and we've been working on a project for about two years that would track every single passenger that gets on American and then measures whether he or she got to destination as advertised within a tolerance. Whether the interruption was a cancellation, a mechanical delay, weather delay, the passenger doesn't really care. But today we are trying to focus, in building this system, on really what we are doing for the consumer and whether we are meeting that obligation.
I think the industry is moving toward a better consumer set of data to be truly responsive and then go fix the problems, but we are not quite there yet.
Mr. LAUBER. I'd concur with Mr. Baker's remarks in this regard and would point out that one of the difficulties in reporting minute-by-minute delays would be a logistics problem, one, of reporting that information accurately and in such a way that the consumers could, in fact, make timely use of it.
As Mr. Kern pointed out, our consumers are smart people, and they know when they are getting to their destinations in an on-time fashion or not, and I think are able to supplement some of the currently-required reporting in such a way as to make meaningful use of it.
On the other hand, as a general principle, we agree that reporting full and complete reporting so that the consumer can, in fact, make an accurate, reliable assessment of the service being provided is the fundamental issue in this case.
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Mr. EHLERS. Thank you. Mr. Kern, you wanted to add something?
Mr. KERN. I heard earlier a point that, if you give me a minute, I'd like to clarify. Somebody mentioned earlier that there is still a perception that we cancel flights because of convenience. That's something we hear maybe because there aren't enough passengers on a flight or other things.
I would like to invite anybody who still has that perception to any of our operational control centers to see how we really manage the airline. We simply cannot cancel a flight because we don't have passengers. We need that airplane wherever it is going. We need the crews wherever it is going. With our route structures and the on-time performance and other factors that we deal with on a minute-by-minute and day-by-day basis, we cannot afford to cancel airlines for those reasons and we don't do it.
DOT inspects us to make sure we are honest in that area, but I wanted to assure this committee, Mr. Chairman, that our market demands that we don't do that, our commercial decisions demand that we don't do that, in addition to the law.
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you very much.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Ehlers.
Page 76 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to ask each of the three principle witnesses to define a mechanical. Mr. Kern?
Mr. KERN. It is a pretty broad definition. Basically I think Mr. Baker mentioned that the complexity of the aircraft and the systems that we operate out there today, there are literally thousands of components on any given aircraft that can malfunction and, in fact, they do and, in fact, they malfunction sometimes at the most inappropriate times.
The basic rule in our industry is when we have a malfunction we fix it.
Mr. OBERSTAR. If a lavatory light does not go on, that's a mechanical problem but it is not one that says the flight can't move?
Mr. KERN. Right. There are categories of mechanical delay. Some can be deferred and fixed at a later date. These are all defined between the carrier and the FAA. And some require immediate maintenance. Those are basically the two broad categories.
There are other mechanical devices that are called ''customer service'' devices such as a tray on the back of a seat or something like that, or the overhead light, that could be deferred.
Earlier there was discussion about the cockpit door. I can tell you from my previous experience in the FAA, having a lock on a cockpit door is a very, very important safety of flight issue. It goes back to the days when we talked about people actually getting into the cockpit and interfering with the crew members. We remember some of the problems we had with that. So there is an FAA rule right now that saysand I believe with good reasonthat you must have an operable lock on the cockpit door.
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So there are thousands of components that might need to be fixed at any given time, and part of the complexity we run into is that we don't have full-blown maintenance bases at all of our destinations. We have some with greater capability, some with lesser capability, but the basic premise is we want to fix the airplanes.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I guess my question should have more properly been phrased, because I'm going to get a lecture that will go all morning from each of you on this.
We had ten hours of hearings in the Aviation Subcommittee or Investigations and Oversight some years ago on minimum equipment lists and we went through all of those issues, whether airlines are conforming and performing properly and maintaining maintenance bases and spare parts depots and adequate numbers of mechanics at key places throughout the system and contracting out their maintenance in an appropriate fashion. We went through all of that years ago.
But what I want for the committee to understand is: are each of you operating on the same definition of mechanical? Does the FAA or the DOT establish the standard that says inability to fix X is a mechanical delay for which the aircraft should not move?
Mr. KERN. My impression, Mr. Oberstar, is that we are. There are basicthe guidelines, advisory circulars from the FAA clearly delineate what we can go with and what we can't go with, and that's the minimum equipment list that you discussed.
Page 78 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Prior to the mid-1980s the definition was very loose and I wouldn't have had confidence at that time that we would be standardized in our approach, but I think today that, by and large, we are very standardized in what we go with and what we can't go with.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Does the reality of hubbing multiply the effect of mechanicals, Mr. Baker?
Mr. BAKER. Very definitely. In my testimony I outlined a description of a ripple effect not only to the individual airplane that had the mechanical, but the requirement under certain circumstancesfor instance, the last bank of flights of the night to the east of Dallas/Fort Worthto hold large numbers of aircraft awaiting a delayed inbound flight carrying connecting passengers because of an upline mechanical. So very clearly the hub and spoke makes this process very dynamic and one that we manage very carefully for the good of the consumer overall.
There is a trade-off every time you make that decision between satisfying those that are trying to connect and those you are delaying who are ready to do. We are constantly in that trade-off quandary. But hub and spoke makes it very dynamic, very fast-moving, and exposes us to that ripple effect.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I want to come to Mr. Lauber. Mr. Baker says in his testimony: the result of a mechanicaland that would apply to a weather delay and would apply to a number of other kinds of delays, air traffic holdsis that the connecting passenger from this flight is left out or connecting passenger is left behind.
Page 79 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There was great pressure in the days before deregulation on the airlines to get to destination A; very little pressure on airlines to hold flights because they didn't care too much if they were carrying a passenger. There wasn't a hub and spoke concept before deregulation. And so their pressure was to get you from A to B, and if at B you were delayed, then let the other carrier figure out where you are going from there.
Is there, Mr. Lauber, great pressure on carriers to hold flights back as in Mr. Baker's descriptionyou've got one flight carrying passengers that are going to fan out from the hub on 12 other airlinesto hold those flights in and therefore create this ripple effect?
Mr. LAUBER. I would characterize the pressure that is there, Mr. Oberstar, as being one largely that reflects the consumer orientation of the airline; that is, largely an airline decision as to whether not they will hold and incur the reportable delays as a result of holding for connecting passengers. At Delta Airlines we place a high priority on that. We like to see our customers get to where we promised we would take them within a reasonably close approximation of the time that we promised we would do that.
I think the answer to your question is that those pressures, to a large extent, reflect the policy and the corporate commitment to providing the consumer reliable service.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And point-to-point carriers like Southwest and America West don't have that same pressure.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC There are a number of other questions I'd like to pursue and some that I will on the second round.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar. We'll go next to Mr. Kim.
Mr. KIM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for yielding. I'd like to apologize for being late. I do have a written opening statement with me. I would ask unanimous consent that my written statement appear in the official record.
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes. Without objection, so ordered.
Mr. KIM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
[Mr. Kim's prepared statement follows:]
Mr. DUNCAN. Mrs. Kelly?
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I have no questions at this time.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Mrs. Seastrand?
Mrs. SEASTRAND. I'm sorry I was late and missed some of the testimony.
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If I could start with Mr. Baker, the Department of Transportation has stated that the reversal of including mechanicals in an on-time disclosure report was one of the top five recommendations of the January safety summit. Is this an accurate characterization of their description?
Mr. BAKER. I do not believe that it is an accurate depiction of what went on at the safety summit. There were over 1,000 aviation professionals that attended. They were broken into approximately five working groups that worked for the better part of an afternoon brainstorming, coming up with ideas and proposals in various areas of concentration. The leadership of those five groups then went off that evening and prioritized those recommendations, which were summarized the next morning in a general session.
So the actual working groups did not set the priorities that were made in the recommendations the next morning, and I don't believe that the working groups would agree that that particular item, although it was on a long list of suggestions and proposals, would have ranked as the fifth most important thing for the industry to do.
Mrs. SEASTRAND. What would you consider some of the factors that impact on-time performance?
Mr. BAKER. Aviation is a set of trade-offs as we go forward trying to operate aircraft, and we are subjected to many factors that can affect dependability. First of all, we have obligations to our customers, and so we are very willing to take delays in boarding, delays in connecting, so we have some consumer service aspects that drive delays.
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The weather has a tremendous impact on us, in spite of technology. We simply cannot operate in certain weather, and in other weather we have to take precautions such as de-icing aircraft.
The air traffic control system does not have unlimited capacity, so in some circumstances that impacts our dependability.
And then there are things we do in not managing the aircraft properly on the ground, causing further delays and late boarding of cargo, and so forth.
We rank 74 or 75 items that can cause delays, and we track them very carefully trying to look for those opportunities to improve, but there are many, many things that can impact a given departure's dependability.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Baker and Mrs. Seastrand, let me apologize. We are going to break right now to go take a vote, and we'll be in recess for just about six or seven minutes, and then we'll start back with some additional questions.
Mr. DUNCAN. We'll call the hearing back to order.
Mr. Kern, let me ask you this. Before I came to Congress I spent seven and a half years as a criminal court judge trying the felony criminal cases, and so I dealt with many very serious charges. You have made in your testimony what I consider to be a pretty serious charge. I'm not saying you are right or you are wrong, but you say that some people in the industry are compromising safety, chipping away at safety, and you described that, yourself, as a dangerous position that cannot be lightly tolerated.
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If your charge is accurate, I think almost everybody that serves on this subcommittee would agree that it is a dangerous position that we would not want to lightly tolerate. Yet, as a judge and in our courts we require very specific proof when there are serious charges.
What I am interested in, sirand I'm not trying to argue with you. I'm just asking: what specifically are you talking about?
Mr. KERN. I believe that comment relates to adding what I characterize as the additional risk on our aviation system, the additional risk that a human may make an error. I believe that adding the maintenance and mechanical cancellation data to the on-time reporting increases the risk that somebody may make a human error or mistake in the future.
It is not my position that people intentionally make mistakes in aviation. We have discussed many, many times about the inadvertency of a lot of the human error in the system. In my testimony I mentioned that over the past ten years we have developed training programs; the FAA has issued regulations, procedures, processes; improved checklists to guard against somebody making an inadvertent human error.
My thesis is simply this: we have a choice. We have a choice here in the United States in our aviation system today to increase risk or not increase the risk. It is my position that if we add the mechanical cancellations and delays we increase that risk. We don't increase it by miles and yards; it is probably by centimeters or feet. But, in fact, we will increase the risk in the system and I think that's dangerous. I think that safety professionals should recognize that and we should make the choice not to increase the risk. And I think the consumers that fly in our airplanes would want us to do that also.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Lauber, I see you
Mr. LAUBER. Yes. I'd like to comment to that. I consider myself a safety professional, as does Mr. Kern and I'm sure the others at this table, and we at Delta, I assure you, are just as committed to the principle of never compromising safety as we have heard Mr. Kern state Northwest is. The question here is whether or not the imposition of a requirement to report mechanical delays in on-time reporting somehow affects risk in the aviation system.
We have already heard that, with regard to mechanicals, this is a very structured decision. The question of what is a mechanical delay is largely determined by regulation and other fairly specific guidance material, the point being that there is very little room for judgment here.
If we look at some of the other issues that no one seems to be clamoring to exclude from the on-time reporting systemfor example, de-icing delays or weather-related delaysas a human performance expert, it is clear to me that there is far greater room for discretion and judgment in those areas than in the case of mechanicals. I find it inconsistent that we don't treat these in the same way.
The fact of the matter and the bottom line is I see no reason to believe that imposing this requirement to report mechanical delays alters in any way the risk in the system. I simply disagree with Mr. Kern on that point.
Mr. DUNCAN. Has the National Transportation Safety Board ever studied this issue and taken a position on it?
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Mr. LAUBER. No, sir. During the time that I was at the Safety Board from late 1985 through the end of last year, I don't recall that the Safety Board ever took a position on or looked at this issue of on-time reporting. We did, however, innumerable times look at accidents and incidents that involved issues of human performance and human error and judgment and how effective management controls can be put in place in the system to control this human error.
That's really what management is all aboutputting the management structure in place, defining the policies, the training, providing the organizational support to all employees who are faced with making decisions in judgment. That's how we control risk in the business. It is a constant element of virtually anything we do, not just in the airline industry.
Mr. DUNCAN. Yes?
Mr. VALEIKA. Can I add just another view? Sometimes there is athis container has two different sides perhaps in looking at it differently. While we have been discussing so much taking away from safety by including the mechanicals, I would like to make the argument that maybe we are taking away from safety by excluding them.
What is happening in the industry is that there is just a certain amount of resources available, funds available, people available. Certainly if somehow the maintenance professionals cannot use resources, the maintenance looks better than it really is, it is going to be much more difficult to get those resources in terms of parts, in terms of equipment, in terms of people, and in terms of training than it could be using the other side.
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I think we can make a case on both sides, depending on how you look at it. But certainly when you have a fixed amount of resources available and you are excluding one area such as the technical areas, though it is not a problem area, I think that it could become more difficult to get the funds to support a good maintenance function, or more difficult to support a good maintenance function than if that is highlighted and is being measured by the traveling public.
Mr. DUNCAN. Let me ask you about something else. All of you heard the FAA testify that delays attributable to air traffic control have greatly decreased. Do all of you agree with that? Is that your experience?
Mr. KERN. I reviewed our numbers as they were saying that, and what we have seen over the past two or three years at Northwest at our hubs is that they've remained relatively constant.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Baker?
Mr. BAKER. I would agree with Mr. Kern. I think, however, the FAA deserves some credit in particular situations over the last three or four years. There have been rather dramatic improvements in many of the hub city airports, particularly O'Hare. The en route delays and en route metering techniques that they used to use have been, for the most part, removed. They are clearly working in the right direction.
I don't think we can be terribly satisfied, however, with what we have seen because, since 1990 when the war started, we have come through a period in which the industry has been relatively flat in terms of its demand on the system. As the economy now has improved and hopefully we can begin to buy airplanes and grow the size of our fleets, I'm not so sure that we're not going to find ourselves in a deteriorating situation because I believe that the system is operating pretty darn near capacity in many respects.
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I'm very much worried about the future, but they have done some awful good things and they deserve credit for that.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Lauber?
Mr. LAUBER. Yes, Mr. Chairman. We have no reason to dispute the numbers that the FAA gave this morning; however, as Mr. Baker pointed out, if you look at certain specific locations, then I think you seethe point is that an overall system average doesn't necessarily reflect the crunch points in the system, and that, while they are moving in the right directions, we're not happy that we are where we are going to need to be in order to absorb the increased growth that all of us are expecting.
I want to take this opportunity in this context to raise a point that I think it is important to understand with regard to this whole issue of scheduling. We have heard a fair amount of discussion this morning about what drives the schedules, how airlines determine schedules. We learned that much of the requirement for the reporting rule in 1987 came about because carriers were striving to publish short flight times and the advantages that had.
One of the important things to keep in mindand we saw the Department's data that the number of delays has dropped dramatically. To some extent, we have to understand that reflects schedule adjustments. In order for us to accurately portray to the consumer what their transient time is going to be between Atlanta and Washington, we have to publish a schedule that is realistic.
Page 88 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That schedule absorbs a lot of the inefficiencies in the system, and that's something the committee has to keep in mind. There are lots of inefficiencies in the system that are masked by the published schedule because the published schedule, in an attempt to accurately inform the consumer, absorbs a lot of the difficulties that we have to deal with.
Mr. DUNCAN. Let me ask you one other thing. The FAA has figures or has given us statistics as saying that delays caused by whatever reason cost the airline industry approximately $2.5 billion a year and, of course, all costs have to be passed on to the consumer and to the flying public. I assume that all of your airlines have some estimate as to what delays cost your airlines, and I'm curious as to what that might be. Do you think that the FAA figure is conservative, exaggerated? What do you think about that?
Mr. LAUBER. Mr. Chairman, we have some numbers with us that address specifically the costs incurred with air traffic control-associated delays for our airline, and the numbers that we show for Delta Airlines, alone, is that for en route delays, delays that occur in transit, we're dealing with about $227 million a year. And then for additional delays imposed on the ground, the so-called ''ground related'' air traffic control delays, we are talking an additional $33 million a year. That's somewhere in the vicinity of $260 million for Delta Airlines regarding air traffic control.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Baker?
Mr. BAKER. I would characterize it in a very similar fashion of several hundred million dollars. I think those kind of fall into two groups. One is very hard costs, like crew costs and added fuel, which we can calculate very precisely as we have done when we look at the savings associated with something like the national route program. On the other hand, there are some numbers that often get wound into these kinds of discussions that are very soft, like utilization enhancements and the cost to our consumers.
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I don't know how to evaluate the cost to consumers on delayed airplanes. I have seen some awful flashy numbers that I cannot endorse.
Utilization is an elusive concept, as well, because giving me back an hour of potential utilization at 10:00 at night in a spoke city is of very little value compared to giving me an added hour in the middle of a business day.
We kind of chase around, trying to get our arms around those two concepts, but we can very precisely identify fuel and crew and consumer delay costs with any kind of proposal.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Kern?
Mr. KERN. I was going to say I think our cost numbers are probably about the same. There are two issues that we need to deal with collectively here. One is that we can identify our costs fairly well. I think the FAA certainly would characterize any cost to the industry in terms of delays. I think the tendency might be on the high side a little bit to help in the procurement process.
On the other hand, I know Mr. Baker and myself worked very closely on an ATA committee that is seriously looking at this issue because it is important to us.
We have heard that it might be as high as $3.5 billion a year. I personally don't believe that. I think that's inflated. But I do think it is $1.5 to $2 billion a year. I believe that we'll be ready to come back to our board of directors at the ATA within several months with a figure that we think we can stand behind, and we're looking forward to that.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Gentlemen, thank you very much.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
On that last point, I remember when I assumed the chairmanship of the Aviation Subcommittee in 1989, for the previous year delays system-wide by everybody's calculation and concurrence were costing airlines and passengers $7.5 billion. That was the year in which O'Hare logged 100,000 hours of delay and Atlanta was not far behind and Denver close on their heels. We had 25 airports with 20,000 to 50,000 hours of delay, and another 20 close behind them.
The perceived problemwell, there were several, but the number one enemy of all aviation interests was airport capacityexpanding runway and taxiway capacity. We embarked on a big initiativeMr. Clinger and I worked on that very closely togetherthat resulted in the Aviation Act of 1990 and agreement that brought the passenger facility charge to build more runway capacity and draw down the surplus in the aviation trust fund and to deal with the problem of modernization of the air traffic control system by buying the equipment that was needed, and then to focus on and deal with other problems of delay.
This issue of delay takes on many faces. I have seen it. I have seen it evolve.
I think, Mr. Baker, in your testimony you very rightly identify five major categories typical of American. You have found 74 categories of reasons for delay. With your massive computer system you are able to get in there and develop data and calculate these factors.
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Some of those items certainlypassenger service delays, congestion delays, logistics delaysare the kind of thing that, when we were kids in school and we came to class with those excuses, they were in the category of ''the dog ate my homework.'' When you get down to real things about safety and security and air traffic control delays, weather delays, mechanicals, you're talking about things over which you really do have some concerns, some degree of control, in some cases no control over weather.
I think we could probably have a whole seminar on air traffic control routing of aircraft during weather delays. Just as an aside, I took the occasion to look at some routing delays for two weekends ago when my flight happened to be diverted in a way that 180 other passengers thought was a bad decision. The air traffic control routing for that day was absolutely chaoticchaotic in the sense that it made no sense. I couldn't understand why they were routing aircraft way up into New England, over the Atlantic Ocean, and down into Washington some place, and others were going right straight through. There was a big weather cell in there.
We can't do a whole lot about the weather except attempt to predict it and avoid it. But we can deal with this matter. I know it costs the carriers something, some amount of moneymaybe a substantial amount of moneyto report separately mechanicals and report separately on your other delay causes, but maybe it is valuable in some fashion to list mechanicals separately.
If the important objective is to let the public know the complete picture of carrier performance and airport performance, mechanicals may beit may be useful to list them separately. But then you'd have to take this chart that the Department does airport-by-airport and list percentage of carriers reported flight operations arriving on time. You may have so much information out there for the traveling public that they just get confused in the end.
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I have been a strong advocate for more than a decade of safety. I have, from the very outset, seen this matter of excluding mechanical delays in the on-time issue as one of safety. I have always felt you should not confuse the two and, I guess arising out of my experience with Eastern Airlines and a few other carriers in the early going after deregulation that had bad records, there was a lot of pressure to get that aircraft out and not have, as they called it ''show stoppers.''
We know we've got the experts in human factors. You certainly, Mr. Lauber, are a worldwide expert in human factors. You raised this to an international consciousness level, and you know that the majority of aviation accidents are human error. Reducing human error has been your great legacy to the National Transportation Safety Board and to the aviation community. And so with John Kern.
When I conducted hearings on MELs we had American and Northwest and Eastern, and every time the question was asked about what you do with this mechanical, this MEL, American was up here on the high end. No room for error. No room for question. Eastern was over on the other end of the spectrum.
I think today those top ten carriers are doing everything humanly possible to make aviation as safe as they possibly can. We shouldn't have any factor in there that skews one way or the other. I don't think today human error is intentional.
I'm just giving you guys a lecture. I'm not asking you a question. I think we ought to stick with this system, perfect it. I think more useful is which airports have the best record and then how can we get others up to that same level and reduce those congestion delays.
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Mr. LAUBER. Mr. Oberstar, if I could comment, I have had the opportunity to observe your work in aviation safety for the many years that I was here in Washington, and before that during the time that I was at NASA. There is no question but that you have been a staunch and powerful advocate for safety in the aviation industry. All of us thank you for that.
With regard to the Eastern issue, I think one of the things we have to keep in mind is that the example you citedand it was a horror story that all of us are very familiar withis that the symptom that we saw there in the action you detailed this morning was symptomatic not of a response to a pressure to report on time, but was a fundamental sickness. Eastern Airlines was terminally ill at the time, as we now know.
I think we just have to keep in mind that that extreme circumstance that we saw thereand none of us ever, ever want to see that happen in the industry because to some extent we all get tainted by that kind of activity. We have to keep in mind that that was a unique set of circumstances, we hope, and that, with regard specifically to the requirement for on-time reporting and the inclusion of mechanicals, I think we have to keep that in that context.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you very much.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the time.
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you, Mr. Oberstar.
Gentlemen, thank you very much for some most helpful and informative testimony. We appreciate your being here. We really appreciate the job that all of you do, because I think it is amazing, when you think about all the things that go into it, that we have the record that we have in here for on-time performance, high quality of service, especially when you compare it to what many other people around the world face.
We do all recognize that the free enterprise systemone of the beauties of the free enterprise system is that it forces you always to strive to improve. We all know that we need to work together to try to make things better.
We thank you for being here and giving your testimony today. Thank you very much.
We'll now go to panel three. We have a very outstanding panel for our third panel today. We have: Mr. David Stempler, who is an aviation attorney and airline passenger consultant with long experience in this field; we have Mr. Darryl Jenkins, who is President of the Aviation Foundation; Mr. Hugh M. Tietjen who is with J.D. Powers & Associates; and we have Mr. Tom Parsons, who is the editor and publisher of ''Best Fares Discount Travel Magazine.''
I would like to welcome all of you to the hearing today. I thank you for your presence. I would simply ask you if you have any preferred order?
Mr. JENKINS. Age.
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Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Mr. Stempler, are you ready to go. I see you raised your hand.
Mr. STEMPLER. I'm ready to go.
Mr. DUNCAN. We'll let you go first.
TESTIMONY OF DAVID S. STEMPLER, AVIATION ATTORNEY AND AIRLINE PASSENGER CONSULTANT; TOM PARSONS, EDITOR/PUBLISHER, BEST FARES DISCOUNT TRAVEL MAGAZINE; HUGH M. TIETJEN, J.D. POWERS & ASSOCIATES; AND DARRYL JENKINS, PRESIDENT, AVIATION FOUNDATION
Mr. STEMPLER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
The hour is getting a little late, so I'll just try to race through the prepared remarks as quickly as I can.
My name is David Stempler. I'm an aviation attorney and airline passenger consultant, having served for many years as the executive director of the International Airline Passengers Association. I'm pleased to be before you today.
You have my complete written statement, so I'll just, as I said, quickly summarize it.
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I must say that you have a good panel here of specialists who interact with real airline passengers like yourselves, like we all are, on a daily basis. Not to be lost in the debate is that the airline system in this country really runs primarily for the benefit of airline passengers. It doesn't run for the airlines, the airports, airline employees, and others; it runs for airline passengers. So the need to do everything to serve their needs should be primary for everybody in Government and the airlines and elsewhere.
We know that the basic information that airline passengers want to know is which airlines are fulfilling their basic contractual promises to them: to fly them on time, to not cancel their flight, to not bump them from their flight, and to have their baggage arrive at the destination with them.
If an airline has failed in any of these missions, passengers really want to know why, and the reasons will help those passengers make more informed purchase decisions for the next trip.
I think the prior panel talked a lot about actual airline delays, themselves. Mr. Baker's testimony was pretty good on that, so I think I'll pass on that.
The second question you posed in the notice was: should the DOT's current on-time reporting requirements be continued at all? I know you raised that in your initial statement.
First and foremost, it is important to state unequivocally that I believe that on-time reporting must be continued in one form or another. As you know, consumers have long cited airline on-time records as a critical factor in choosing an airline, so to eliminate these on-time reports would really be a great disservice to the American flying public.
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The final question you posed was: should flight delays due to aircraft mechanical problems continue to be included in DOT's on-time airline reports? I firmly believe that mechanical delays and cancellations should be included, in order to make airline performance more accurate and useful.
First of all, we, as passengers, trust the mechanics and pilots to make the right decisions about whether an airplane must be delayed or cancelled for repairs. Taking delays are fairly routine at all airlines for reasons other than mechanicals and therefore taking a delay for mechanical, is not so out of the norm that a mechanic would be placed under great pressure. But I may want to address this further in the question and answer time.
We get calls from a lot of pilots and insiders in the airlines, and I'd like to share with you, first of all, what passengers feel about delays and what we hear from mechanics and pilots about some of those things.
One of the standards that we believe in, that comes from on high at most airlines, is: don't dispatch an airplane that you wouldn't put your family on. We believe most really follow that. But, as I said, there are other subtle pressures, and I'll try to share that with you later.
On the issue of the validity of including mechanical delays and cancellations in on-time performance, it might be argued that mechanical problems are really not in an airline's control. Well, in most cases the occurrence of the mechanical is not, but the way that the airline deals with the mechanical problem is certainly within its control and affects the disruption of the passenger.
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Some airlines deal with this problem by constantly buying new airplanes. These carriers spend a great deal of money to position spare parts and mechanics throughout their system, even at remote locations, to ensure that if a mechanical occurs they can fix it quickly.
With this type of airline, even though the passenger may take a delay in this situation, the airline won't have to cancel a flight, which is obviously much more disruptive and much more of a disservice to passengers, by getting them to their destination late rather than not at all.
But any accurate system of on-time reporting should give higher grades to the airline that gets its passengers to its destination rather than the airline that has a mechanical, cancels the flight, and strands the passengers. Right now the airline that cancels the flight is not Peñalized, so therefore the airline that better served its passengers is. We need to correct that.
Since airline cancellations can be the most significant problem faced by airline passengers, any reporting system that accurately reports airline performance should tell passengers which airlines are prone to cancellations. The airlines should report to DOT all cancelled flights, regardless of cause, including mechanical and weather problems, along with the total number of flights actually completed. We talked about this earlier. This is the completion factor.
This would give consumers a chance to judge an airline by its overall reliability in getting passengers to their destinations which, in effect, is what they contracted for.
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Let me be clear that the DOT's proposed snap-back to the old method of counting delays and cancellations without mechanicals does all airline consumers a disservice. Airline passengers need more information, not less. Passengers are deprived of crucial information if the airlines are only providing partial information on their reliability.
We know that the airlines collect this data for their own internal purposes. We heard that from the panel before. They even, as you said, are up to the minute. They need to know if they are having a system-wide problem with a flight delay or cancellations. In fact, many airlines post their completion factor on a daily basis for their executives and employees. The data is there. The only question is whether we, as travelers, get to see it and use it.
That basically completes my summary. Thank you for asking me for my views.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Who wants to go next? Mr. Parsons?
Mr. PARSONS. Mr. Chairman, my name is Tom Parsons. It is a great pleasure to be here today.
I publish a magazine, but also I do a lot of talk shows. I do about 80 to 100 shows around America every month, lasting from an hour to 3 hours. My job on radio and television is to tell people how to fly cheap, but at the same time I also get questions about safety and on-time performance and things airlines do that get people upset. I really think I am speaking for the people here because I hear themmaybe 1,000 or so every month. They give me their input.
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I think any time we manipulate facts to the consumers we can't have educated consumers. For examples, what the airlines do with frequent flyer programs. I think consumers are a little frustrated. We see that carrot out in front of our eyes and when we want to redeem our miles, we cannot use them to Hawaii, we cannot use them for other flights.
It is the same thing with on-time performance. As a consumer, I want to know which airports to avoid. I want to know when and where to connect. If we don't have true information, like confusions we have been given for the past few months or the last few years, then I cannot say I want to avoid Pittsburgh in the month of January because there is a 50 percent chance that my planes will either be broken down or cancelled. I want to know that information as a consumer.
With the airlines concentrating today on the hub and spokeswe watched Delta cut down in Orlando and Dallaswe've seen Northwest shut down Milwaukee and Bostonthese hubs are going to be more concentrated. When airlines say that 20 percent of their flights are not on time this yearwe were talking just a few minutes ago about 6 million flights a year. That means 1.2 million of those flights are going to come in at least 15 minutes late, and when I make that connection in Dallas and my plane is late, that means my misconnection meansI may not get to my destination for 3 to 5 hours. Yes, the record shows 20 minutes, but it is really a 3- to 4-hour delay to me.
I think we need that information and I want to know how long it takes an airline to get me from point A to B to C now that we are going to see those hubs more concentrated.
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We also heard today that the airlines are going to be transporting somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 million this year, and in a couple of years it is going to go up to 800 million. Airports aren't expanding. Terminals are still the same size.
Again, I think the consumer hates the fact that when these planes are running delayed and we sit on the tarmacsI know this has happened to you, toofor 45 minutes to 2 hoursa friend of mine was stuck in Shreveport for 4 hours with no water and no air, when they had maybe five or six empty gates at the airport. Why can't they stop holding us hostage, because that's what it comes down to?
Should there be a rule saying if we cannot take off on time, pull out from a gate, lock it up, keep me one foot from it, and keep me there because of departure time? They keep me there and I can't go out and get some air. I'm claustrophobic now because of what the airlines do to maintain on-time statistics.
Today I want to know which airlines are giving me the best offers. I want to know which airports are best. I made a mistake 2 years ago. I went to Costa Rica. I did everything I could, except I didn't look at the weather chart. I didn't realize that in September there are 21 days of rain. Well, the same thing happens at all airports.
If Pittsburgh has a notorious January history of being 50 percent on time, maybe I want to go through Atlanta where they have an 85 percent chance of being on time. I'm going to have a better chance of making my connection, I'm going to get to my destination on time. I think the public wants airport information as well as on time.
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We have about 27 major hubs out there. I can choose hubs. Let me be an educated consumer. But don't hide the facts with mechanicals. I believe the airlines will hide behind that mechanicals. They have done it in the past as a marketing tool.
A few years ago American Airlines ran a television and newspaper ad, ''The on-time machine.'' Last month they came in 10th place in a top 10. I realize some of that had to do with weather, but that advertising piece was used and I, the consumer, was brainwashed. The same thing happens with Northwest. They are 7th out of the top 10. Continental gives money to their employees$2.5 million each monthif they come within the top five. And then we see Southwest Airlines. Their response to all three of them is, ''Liar, liar, pants on fire.'' They did that ad.
I believe that as long as the airlines use on-time commercially, they are going to try to brainwash me and say, ''I'm a better machine than the other guy.'' We need to get all the facts to the people.
That's where I stand today.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Who wants to go next? Mr. Tietjen?
Mr. TIETJEN. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee. I'm Hugh Tietjen, director of the Airline Practice at J.D. Powers and Associates.
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As many of you know, our firm's expertise is in measuring customer satisfaction and consumer perceptions of product and service quality. We have conducted such studies in the airline industry for three years, in the technology field for four years, and our most notable analyses have been in the automotive industry where we got our start 25 years ago.
Thank you for inviting me to discuss the benefits consumers derive from reliable, consistent, and relevant measures of airline performance, specifically on-time performance.
I'd like to concentrate on two very important points.
The first is that the very availability of information in which consumers have confidence can substantially accelerate the improvement of quality of a product or service. Knowing that consumers have quantifiable results of past performance on which to base future purchases clearly motivates producers of goods and services to achieve higher quality and reliability.
Second, in the airline industry our studies show that on-time performance is far and away the single most important determinant of customer satisfaction.
The auto industry provides graphic proof that information widely disseminated to customers and forcefully presented to manufacturers, usually through advertising, to the management of manufacturers leads to better product.
Page 104 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC My first chart, which you have with my remarks, shows that the quality of both American and imported cars has improved in recent years. Rates of problems per car, as reported by consumers during the first 90 days of ownership, have declined considerably since the beginning of the decade. As you know, this period was marked by close scrutiny of auto quality in the media and elsewhere, based largely on the results of our research.
Availability of relevant and reliable information about an airline's past performance can and does have an equally profound affect on the airline's future performance.
We recently completed our third study of frequent flyers, evaluating some 7,700 individual flight experiences. Our respondents averaged more than 25 round trips per year and offer a sophisticated and experienced view of the industry.
The chart which is on the easel here shows that these flyers ranked on-time performance first in their overall airline satisfaction at 17 percent of total satisfaction. It ranked ahead of such factors as aircraft condition and flight attendant service, which combined accounted for 16 percent of satisfaction. These were among a total of ten factors in a consumer's full measure of satisfaction with airline service.
I should add that flight safety amongst domestic carriers is a given and not a determinant of satisfaction or carrier selection today.
My final point is one you have heard from others who study the responses of consumers or voters, and that is: perception is reality. The last chart shows that perception of on-time arrival generally tracks DOT's statistics during our study period, which was the third and fourth quarters of last year. There are, however, some notable exceptions. I'll not try to explain these differences except to suggest that the customer's perception does not take into account any of the reasons for delays, as we have been discussing today. The fact is that travelers simply know or they perceive that they know when their flight arrived on time.
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Again, widely-available, consistent, reliable information provided to consumers really does improve quality in any industry. In the airline industry, on-time performance is the most important measure of service quality, and because DOT's air travel consumer reports has become the source for consumers seeking complete and reliable information, the Department of Transportation must make every effort to assure the credibility of that report.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much.
Mr. JENKINS. Thank you.
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, my name is Darryl Jenkins, a faculty member at the Institute of Tourism Research at George Washington University and the author of seven books on the airline industry. I'm currently the executive editor of the ''Handbook of Airline Economics,'' which is coming out this November. It is being published by McGraw-Hill. I'm also the president of the Aviation Foundation, a nonprofit group based here in Washington and associated with George Washington University.
American consumers have a right to expect from the Department of Transportation a full and honest accounting of how well U.S. airlines meet their needs to they can make intelligent purchases of airline services. That means retaining all information included in DOT's monthly air travel consumer report, but also adding to that report each airline's overall scheduled completion ratewhat I consider to be the best measure of airline performance.
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Vital information about mechanical delays must not be eliminated from the report as DOT now proposes. Before mechanical delays were figured into on-time performance, this scenario could easily happen. An airline might have no mechanical delays but have one flight in five delayed 30 minutes by weather. Another airline might have mechanical problems with four or five flights resulting in hours of delays for passengers. But if the second airline's fifth flight was on time, that carrier would have a 100 percent on-time performance and be ranked ahead of the other airline, which ironically got more people to their destinations on this day with only brief weather delays which were beyond their control.
DOT now says airlines might defer or forego maintenance to stay on schedule, thereby compromising safety.
Weather has been a factor in on-time reports for eight years and there have never been, to my knowledge, flights dispatched just to keep to the schedule. There is no evidence indicating that including mechanical delays has affected safety this year, either.
If airline personnel feel pressure to dispatch aircraft in order to improve on-time statistics, Mr. Chairman, we have a much larger problem that will not be addressed by simply eliminating a class of data. If the patient is sick, breaking the thermometer will not reduce the fever.
Travelers really want to know which airline gets the most flights to their destinations, even if there are occasional delays. The best indicator is the overall schedule completion ratethe ratio of total domestic flights scheduled to total domestic flights completed. It contains the bottom-line information, whether you are likely to get to the destination on the flight you choose.
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Mr. Chairman, information is power. Consumers today have a great deal more information about airline performance than ever before. But they want and deserve complete information.
Currently, the information they are receiving is incomplete and therefore biased, which are the two best indicators of a totally worthless statistic. Back-paddling and indecision by DOT in this matter will benefit no one. Instead, the Department should move not to assure the traveling public of the complete and accurate picture of how well each carrier services the people who board its aircraft.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Jenkins.
Thank you all, gentlemen.
Mr. Jenkins, since you just finished, let me ask you a question. You said ''now we have incomplete and inaccurate statistics and so it is almost meaningless.'' What would you include? What would you include that is not being included now, realizing that we have to try to be realistic about this and not put too many reporting requirements on the airlines? What would you include that is not being included now?
Mr. JENKINS. Right now the problem is that the statistic is so complicated that, even on my side, I have a very difficult time understanding what it means. If I, as a person who is trained in statistics and mathematics, has a difficult time understanding it, I have a hard time believing that consumers that have less training in this area will get much meaning out of it.
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The point is that any time you have a statistic that is incomplete it is also biased. If it is biased, it means it is giving incomplete information to the consumer. Including mechanical delays will go a long way to reducing the bias in the current statistic.
Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Parsons, you mentioned the Continental Airlines practice of giving incentive payments to their employees if they end up in the top five. Do you see any dangers in that or problems with that, or do you think that's something that ultimately helps the consumer?
Mr. PARSONS. I think the airline finds it is beneficial to get places on time. Every time they delay that hub and spoke it costs them money. I'm not sure what the other gentlemen said here earlier. They did say they don't cancel flights because of economic reasons. I've talked to pilots and I've talked to flight attendants, and I can tell you many times in Dallas/Fort Worth there have been flights cancelled the day before and they knew they were not going to go from Dallas to Philadelphia and they were going to lay over in Dallas.
I just think that all the airlines have to make this system run better. I see problems in the future because if they are concentrating on the hubs, and there will be 300 million more people flying and we just built our first new airport in 20 years in Denver, which took billions of dollars to do, how are they going to handle all these people?
I look at National Airport here with one operating runway. LaGuardia has two and Boston has two. What happens when they shut down because of weather? They're going to divert.
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I see this whole system becoming a chaotic mess somewhere down the road. Air traffic controllersI just read a report the other day that they are going to put some future plans off for another 5 years.
A couple years ago we put 8 percent of our tax money to improve the air traffic control system, the airports, and such. This year we are putting 10 percent of that money in, and it is being hidden in the budget so we don't spend it.
I think the public is sometimes duped. I think the public is fed up. I think they want to see progress. We believe we have the best safety in our country. I don't think pilots or mechanics are going to jeopardize us in any way, but I do see that the machine has to run well for us to get to places on time.
The over-expansion of airports should be looked at. Continental has improved their on-time performance and they are happy about that. The people are happy. But the problem they've had in the last couple of months has been Newark, where the airport and the air traffic control system was shut down consumers have problems, because of how the airline system works.
We have an influx of flights coming from the east coast. They come to the mid-west, and then they head to the west. But when you have a storm on the east coast, it shuts down the system. It took American 3 days, I think, to get their operation back in order last year when we had the major snowstorm. That's where Southwest and America West have their act together because they do not depend on the hub and spoke.
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We are seeing most of these major airlines today concentrate on that hub and spoke. If we have bad weather, like lightning bolts in the Dallas/Fort Worth area they start diverting flights. Then we have people piling up. Then you put people like myself and all the millions of other people stuck on a runway for hours. I really believe that's a very major concern.
I talked to a fellow the other day who flew on Northwest and they diverted him to Sioux Falls. On a 3 1/2 hour flight, it took him 12 hours to get home because of all the misconnects. I think that's another thing the airlines should not do.
The other thing is on-time performance or mechanicals. Let me explain something. The airlines report weekly to each other what their load factors are around the country. If they can do that kind of technology and say, ''I have 67 percent on this flight and 82 percent,'' it seems logical that they could also put a little code in that same record and say ''c'' for cancellation, or whatever. I think that should be done.
It is easier than we have been led to believe and I think they are just withholding the facts from us.
Mr. DUNCAN. I know that, in addition to all of your knowledge that the four of you have in regard to aviation, I'm sure that you fly frequently. I wonder if any of you feel that there is a legitimate safety concern if the Government continues to require mechanical delays to be counted.
Page 111 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. STEMPLER. Mr. Chairman, let me just sort of give you my little theory about this, about mechanicals and pressures put on employees.
I always like to say that in aviation we never really argue about the blacks and whites of safety, only that gray zone in the middle. We also know that safety is always stated to be the highest priority of any airline. We know that's indoctrinated into everyone. And we also know that passengers prefer on-time airlines. And, as Tom mentioned, we also know that airlines want to market this on-time.
So what happens at the executive suite, if they start pushing, ''We want to have our flights run on time,'' and this starts working its way down the line and gets transmitted to maintenance supervisors, mechanics, and pilots, and it says, ''as a goal we want to operate on time,'' sometimes that gets misinterpreted a little bit as to how hard to push.
Oftentimes, this pressure focuses on maintenance supervisors, and sometimes this causes the whole operation to push the arrow to the less safe portion of the gray zone. We never really get into the unsafe zone. We are never going to dispatch an unairworthy aircraft. But there are lots of ways to fix things. There are lots of ways to make quick fixes and to short-cut things, or whatever. It moves that arrow in that gray zone.
So one of the things that we felt about it is if there is a real concern about mechanics being unable to resist this pressure, that we ought to embolden these certificate holders. These mechanics do hold certificates from the FAA. We would embolden them by increasing the threat of the FAA on them for fines and/or criminal Peñalties. This is going to enable them to just say no to their supervisors if that pressure is there.
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One of the other concerns we have, as the airlines get to the top of the on-time list, those ones that are performing on time, the pressure even gets greater at those airlines to maintain that status. The pressure goes to pilots, to mechanicseverywhere.
So there is a flip side to this. Not only the ones that are performing badly, but the ones that are performing very well want to stay up there.
The other point that you asked Mr. Jenkins, which was the exclusion of data in delay information, really what passengers want to know is they want to know all reasons for delay. To passengers a delay is a delay is a delay. They don't care why it occurred, just that it did occur. They don't care that a mechanical occurred on the first flight in the morning and that aircraft has completed four more flights before it got to them. All they know is that the flight is delayed, they are stuck in the airport for a couple of hours waiting for that aircraft.
Any reporting system that doesn't record that as a delay, in fact, in a sense rewards the carrier. What happens with passengers is they start not to believe any of the statistics. It is a loss of credibility in the system. Tom has addressed that in some of his articles.
We have advertising in the newspapers where they see these fares of $109 from here to California, and then little print that says ''requires a round-trip purchase,'' so that $109 fareyou can't really buy that. I don't know of any industry where you can advertise something where you can't actually go in and buy the product for that price, but it goes on with the airlines. There is a lot of loss of credibility.
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Mr. DUNCAN. You mentioned earlier in your testimony that you wanted to say something about some feelings of mechanics and pilots that have been expressed to you?
Mr. STEMPLER. Yes, and maybe I can do it also in the context, for Mr. Oberstar's benefitmy fellow Potomac residentabout that Eastern Airlines situation. I think that in that Eastern situation, which was obviously an abomination, we know that Eastern had been sick for a very, very long time. This was an airline on a downward spiral.
The pressures on this mechanic I believe occurred during the Frank Lorenzo stewardship, and the turmoil at Eastern was extremely well-known to everybody in the business. We all knew what was going on. The real question I think you ought to ask is why the FAA did not increase surveillance on that time. The FAA I know disregarded complaints from mechanics because they said it was just a labor dispute and they disavowed any interest.
As this downward spiral occurred, the DOT and FAA really didn't intercede in this situation, and I think that's something we ought to look at when we see distress. And this is one thing that the completion factor would tell us, among other things. These are early warnings that something is going on, that we need an alert to look into these things.
Passengers may react. They'll vote with their wallet, so to speak, because they are going to avoid those carriers.
The other point actually I addressed, Mr. Chairman, in a point of the pressure on pilots. Again, one of the airlines that has been on the top of the list for a very long time, I've been told from the inside that they exert extreme pressure on their pilots to operate on time.
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Mr. DUNCAN. Mr. Tietjen, I have run well over my time, but let me just ask you this: I noticed that in your chart there you don't have any consideration or any section dealing with price. I have always felt that was certainly one of the major factors that air passengers consider. Was this because of the type of traveller that you surveyed, the ones that
Mr. TIETJEN. No. Actually, we survey travelers in two areas. One is satisfactionhow happy they are with the specific flight that they tookand the other is selection of the carrier. In selection of the carrier, price ranks now number three. In prior years it has ranked number two. Schedule frequency is number one in selection of the carrier, frequent flyer programs is number two, and price is number three.
Mr. DUNCAN. I see.
Mr. TIETJEN. Your point is also valid, I think, that these are business flyers largely, so they are less price sensitive.
Mr. DUNCAN. All right. Thank you very much.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank this panel for presenting their separate but, in a way, converging views that illuminate another aspect of this issue from the standpoint of the passenger.
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All of you have concluded that mechanical delays should be a part of the DOT report, but when you consider that 60 percent of the operational errors and aircraft accidents are attributable to human error, don't you think that maybe you are opening the door for increased pressure, direct or indirect, on airline employees to release aircraft that might not be ready?
Mr. JENKINS. I'd like to answer that, sir. I think the strongest evidence against that hypothesis, Mr. Oberstar, was offered a little bit earlier by Hugh Tietjen. The night before we had our consumer summit on this, Hugh Tietjen and my wife and I went out and had dinner, and he showed me some charts that J.D. Powers had been accumulating over the years, and onewhich is probably the most powerful chart I have ever seenas they have been reporting complete data on cars, defects have decreased. And so by having more information out there for our consumer, and as this information becomes better and more complete, J.D. Powers actually improved the quality of cars that we have been buying.
I don't know if you have those charts with you or not, but I think that's the most compelling evidence that I have ever seen for including all information to the buying public.
As information was put out to the public on defects in cars, the defects, the number of defects that consumers reported, over the years decreased as they became more aware of which cars were good and which cars were not.
Mr. OBERSTAR. That may be. There may be a lot of other factors on that matter, competition being a very significant one.
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Mr. STEMPLER. Mr. Oberstar, one of the things I think I would share with you is a Boeing study that they put out every year. They track airline accidents. I think they've done itthe last one I have seen was from 1958 to 1994on this issue. I have used that figure, as you have, of human factors as the basis for these accidents.
When I really looked at it in their study, 70 percent was flight crew failures, and that was primarily proceduresfailure to comply with procedures in the cockpitchecklists, or any other kind of procedures was one, two, and four on the list. Obviously that wouldn't have been related to the mechanical issue, and so on and so forth.
I'll get that report to you and we can address that a little more, but I think the mechanical component was fairly low down on the list.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Stempler, when did youyou have gone through an evolution in your thinking. When did you come to the conclusion that mechanicals should be included?
Mr. STEMPLER. I had come out with a statement earlier in the year that supported the exclusion of mechanicals, and I was about to say that I had done something that doesn't often get done in WashingtonI'll admit to an error, that I made a mistake. We revisited the issue, and upon further study we just decided as a groupat that time I was with IAPAnow that we should include them.
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A lot of my thinking really occurred right after the safety summit. We were all imbued with the feelings of safety and whatever, and when I did see this piece that there had been this recommendation to exclude it as one of the five recommendations, I went along and supported it. When I studied it later and found out that, again, what this wasI was actually at that summit. I can't recall if you were there.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I was the first speaker after the Secretary.
Mr. STEMPLER. In the working groups what actually happened is we all divided into five working groups, and then there were 5 or 10 or 15 tables in each room, and 8 or 9 of us sat at a table, and another 8 or 9 sat there in this one particular area. We just were brainstorming at our table. You'd write up recommendations, and all of these got sent up to the front. So we never actually interacted with any of the people at any of the other tables or anything else.
And then the chairmen of the working groups that night picked, out of the 100 or so that they might have gotten, what they deemed to be the top five. When I first read the materials submitted earlier this year that this had been voted on, I was mistaken. It really hadn't been voted on.
I changed my mind.
Mr. OBERSTAR. And you are no longer with
Page 118 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. STEMPLER. That's right.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Could I ask a different question for other members of the panel, and that is this matter of hubbing and ripple effect. Is the practice of hub and spoke now adding to airline passengers' woes, or is it about the same? Mr. Parsons?
Mr. PARSONS. I don't know. I can just say what I have seen. I watch the air carriers around the United States pretty closely. I watched the airlines raise their fares over the weekend. What do they say? They say they don't do it with one other's knowledge, but they still do it.
Mr. OBERSTAR. They don't conspire.
Mr. PARSONS. Yes. There have only been 25 fare hikes since 1992 that no one has conspired on so far. The issue on the mechanicalswith the hub and spokesit may be advantageous at hubs because you have the parts there, you have the mechanics there, you have the technicians there. It is the other ends the spokes thatwe have to worry about. We should have the crew and replacement aircraft there also in many cases.
I was thinking about accidents of the last 3 or 4 years. Going through my memory I can think of maybe only one, a Continental prop plane somewhere in Texas where they forgot to put bolts on the propellers. Everything else has been either air traffic control problems, like the one in LA, or probable pilot error.
I would say that mechanics have been doing a great job. I'm happy with the mechanics we have out there. I think our biggest concernright now is that safety issue.
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We have safe airlines. I just think that a few airlines or a few people are raising some things a little bit too soon. I think the airlines are doing a good job on the mechanic side. We do have to improve the FAA and also U.S. air traffic control. We have the money. We should do it.
I also think the pilots are very safety oriented. I think we have a good group of airline people. I'd just like to see consumers have all the information and airlines not able to hide behind anything like a regulation loophole or turn of phrase.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Mr. Tietjen, your testimony emphasizes that on-time performance is the single-most important determinant of consumer satisfaction. How does that translate out into decisions that travelers make? If your business is at a fortress hub of one of the major carriers, you are kind of a victim, aren't you?
Mr. TIETJEN. You are. And, as you know, the competitive situation in the airline industry is very unique because there are things that lock a customer in that doesn't want to be locked in necessarily. You are right. Particularly when you are at a fortress hub, you are right if someone is at an elite level or a high level of a frequent flyer program. So the changes don't come real easy.
On the other hand, we analyze repeat purchases. One of the questions we ask is: given a choice, how likely are you to fly this carrier again in the next six months? These are people that are flying twice a month. The incidence of repeat purchase or flying again goes up with satisfaction, so the higher the satisfactionvery direct correlation.
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So when we speak to our clients, who are the carriers, we tell them that the reason you should get satisfaction up, and this is where you are weak or this is where you are strong, is that your potential for repeat purchase is this much higher.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Yes. Well, if you are at an airport where one airline has 80 percent of the operations, you may rate that airline very low, but you don't have much choice the next time you go to buy a ticket some place.
Mr. TIETJEN. Very good point.
I wanted to make one other comment. There has been a lot of discussion about adding information to what is available. I certainly endorse that.
On the other hand, I think it is very important to keep a crisp reporting that goes to the consumer. I don't think the two are at odds if one keeps that in mind.
It really is important. A ranking might not have statistical significance between the number one and the number two, but that is what gets attention. That gets the consumers' attention and it get's the management's attention at the carrier and gets action taken.
As a company, we police very, very tightly what our clients can do in terms of advertising the results. I don't know if that would be applicable to the DOT, but I think that some way to present the data and try and control what goes out would be very important.
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Mr. OBERSTAR. In your analysis of data do you separate out the regional commuter carriers, those that are, as I call them, the ''slaves'' of the majors? Chairman Duncan and I both have to rely on regionals to get us to our ultimate destination in our respective districts, as do most Members of Congress. But that's where you get a lot of these problems.
Mr. TIETJEN. Yes. We don't serve any of their passengers. We only do the majors.
Mr. OBERSTAR. You don't sort that out. Well, thank you very, very much for your testimony. It has been very helpful. I appreciate your effort in presenting the testimony and being with us today.
Mr. DUNCAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Oberstar.
Gentlemen, you have been outstanding witnesses and I appreciate very much your testimony and your appearance here today. Thank you very much.
[Whereupon, at 1:13 p.m. the committee was adjourned, to reconvene at the call of the Chair.]
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