SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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H.R. 1407, THE AIRLINE DELAY REDUCTION ACT
TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
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HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED SEVENTH CONGRESS
APRIL 26, 2001
Printed for the use of the
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
COMMITTEE ON TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE
DON YOUNG, Alaska, Chairman
THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin, Vice-Chair
SHERWOOD L. BOEHLERT, New York
HOWARD COBLE, North Carolina
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
WAYNE T. GILCHREST, Maryland
STEPHEN HORN, California
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN L. MICA, Florida
JACK QUINN, New York
VERNON J. EHLERS, Michigan
SPENCER BACHUS, Alabama
STEVEN C. LaTOURETTE, Ohio
SUE W. KELLY, New York
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
ROBERT W. NEY, Ohio
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
FRANK A. LoBIONDO, New Jersey
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
RICHARD W. POMBO, California
JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
DOUG BEREUTER, Nebraska
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
JOHNNY ISAKSON, Georgia
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
ROB SIMMONS, Connecticut
MIKE ROGERS, Michigan
SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO, West Virginia
MARK STEVEN KIRK, Illinois
HENRY E, BROWN, Jr., South Carolina
TIMOTHY V. JOHNSON, Illinois
BRIAN D. KERNS, Indiana
Page 4 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCDENNIS R. REHBERG, Montana
TODD RUSSELL PLATTS, Pennsylvania
MIKE FERGUSON, New Jersey
SAM GRAVES, Missouri
C.L. (BUTCH) OTTER, Idaho
MARK R. KENNEDY, Minnesota
JOHN ABNEY CULBERSON, Texas
BILL SHUSTER, Pennsylvania
JOHN BOOZMAN, Arkansas
JAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
ROBERT A. BORSKI, Pennsylvania
WILLIAM O. LIPINSKI, Illinois
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
BOB CLEMENT, Tennessee
JERRY F. COSTELLO, Illinois
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, District of Columbia
JERROLD NADLER, New York
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
JAMES A. BARCIA, Michigan
BOB FILNER, California
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON, Texas
FRANK MASCARA, Pennsylvania
Page 5 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCGENE TAYLOR, Mississippi
JUANITA MILLENDER-McDONALD, California
ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS, Maryland
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
MAX SANDLIN, Texas
ELLEN O. TAUSCHER, California
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
JAMES P. McGOVERN, Massachusetts
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
NICK LAMPSON, Texas
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
MARION BERRY, Arkansas
BRIAN BAIRD, Washington
SHELLEY BERKLEY, Nevada
BRAD CARSON, Oklahoma
JIM MATHESON, Utah
MICHAEL M. HONDA, California
RICK LARSEN, Washington
SUBCOMMITTEE ON AVIATION
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JOHN L. MICA, Florida, Chairman
THOMAS E. PETRI, Wisconsin
JOHN J. DUNCAN, Jr., Tennessee
STEPHEN HORN, California
JACK QUINN, New York
VERNON J. EHLERS, Michigan
SPENCER BACHUS, Alabama
SUE W. KELLY, New York
RICHARD H. BAKER, Louisiana
JOHN COOKSEY, Louisiana, Vice Chairman
JOHN R. THUNE, South Dakota
FRANK A. LoBIONDO, New Jersey
JERRY MORAN, Kansas
MICHAEL K. SIMPSON, Idaho
JOHNNY ISAKSON, Georgia
ROBIN HAYES, North Carolina
MARK STEVEN KIRK, Illinois
TIMOTHY V. JOHNSON, Illinois
DENNIS R. REHBERG, Montana
SAM GRAVES, Missouri
MARK R. KENNEDY, Minnesota
JOHN ABNEY CULBERSON, Texas
BUD SHUSTER, Pennsylvania
Page 7 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJOHN BOOZMAN, Arkansas
DON YOUNG, Alaska
WILLIAM O. LIPINSKI, Illinois
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, District of Columbia
EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON, Texas
LEONARD L. BOSWELL, Iowa
JOHN ELIAS BALDACCI, Maine
PETER A. DeFAZIO, Oregon
JERRY F. COSTELLO, Illinois
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey
CORRINE BROWN, Florida
JUANITA MILLENDER-McDONALD, California
MAX SANDLIN, Texas
ELLEN O. TAUSCHER, California
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
TIM HOLDEN, Pennsylvania
NICK LAMPSON, Texas
SHELLEY BERKLEY, Nevada
BRAD CARSON, Oklahoma
JIM MATHESON, Utah
MICHAEL M. HONDA, California
NICK J. RAHALL II, West Virginia
Page 8 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCJAMES L. OBERSTAR, Minnesota
Text of H.R. 1407, a bill to amend Title 49, United States Code, to permit air carriers to meet and discuss their schedules in order to reduce flight delays, and for other purposes
Casey, James L., Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Air Transport Association of America
McElroy, Deborah C., President, Regional Airline Association
Swauger, Dick, Technology Coordinator, National Air Traffic Controllers Association
PREPARED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED BY MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
Costello, Hon. Jerry F., of Illinois
Lipinski, Hon. William O., of Illinois
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PREPARED STATEMENTS SUBMITTED BY WITNESSES
Blackmer, Bill (presented by Dick Swauger)
Casey, James L
McElroy, Deborah C
ADDITION TO THE RECORD
Air Line Pilots Association, International, Capt. Duane E. Woerth, President, letter, April 24, 2001
H.R. 1407, THE AIRLINE DELAY REDUCTION ACT
THURSDAY, APRIL 26, 2001
House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Aviation, Washington, D.C.
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 11:00 a.m. in room 2167, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. John L. Mica [chairman of the subcommittee} presiding.
Mr. MICA. I would like to call this hearing of the House Aviation Subcommittee to order. We are going to proceed with opening statements. The subject of our discussion today is H.R.1407, the Airline Delay Reduction Act. We have one panel and three witnesses.
Page 10 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I will begin with my opening statement and then will defer to the ranking members and other members as they come in.
Congestion and delays are probably the biggest problem facing the aviation system today. It should be obvious to anyone that two aircraft cannot take off or land on the same runway at the same time.
We all know that there is a limit to the number of aircraft that a specific airport can handle. Yesterday, the capacity benchmarks report that was released by FAA set forth the limit for the 31 airports that they reviewed.
Now, the question is what are we going to do about the situation that we face today.
In the long run, the answer is to build more runways. We heard, I think, yesterday, that there are only one or two of those being planned for the congested airports that were identified in the report.
We know we have to expand airport capacity, modernize the air traffic control system and redesign the routes that aircraft fly. But again, as we said yesterday, that is not going to happen overnight. It will probably take years to build new runways. I think someone commented yesterday that at Logan it took 17 years to build additional runway capacity. That is even if the problem of local opposition can be addressed.
In some cities, they will probably never be able to build new runways or expand their airport in any meaningful way. That is particularly true in some of these targeted airports that are major points of congestion.
Air traffic control modernization faces similar obstacles. Many of the key FAA modernization projects are years behind schedule and unfortunately, some of them are over budget and even today I can't tell you where some of them are going to be even a year or two from now, to give you an honest answer.
Page 11 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Most of those projects when they are completed will do little to improve capacity. They merely improve the reliability of the current system.
But we are still faced with the problem of airline delays and we can't wait years to solve those problems. FAA data shows that in the year 2000 delays were up 20 percent over 1999. During the first nine months of 2000, delayed, canceled or diverted flights affected 119 million passengers.
I gave these figures yesterday. Delays in 2000 cost the airlines an estimated $6.5 billion, up from $5.4 billion the year before. Last year was the worst on record for airline delays. Some fear that this summer could be just as bad, if not worse.
Adding just a few minutes delay to each flight can create gridlock in our aviation system with very negative, dramatic impact on our economy.
The bill that we are going to be discussing today, H.R.1407, is one of the short term measures that I believe can provide immediate relief to the airline-airport delay problem. It simply allows the airlines to discuss ways to bring their flights more in line with the capacity of the airports that they serve.
The FAA benchmarks show the airports are now sometimes being asked to handle more flights than they can possibly accommodate.
Last September in testimony before this subcommittee, American Airlines Chairman, Donald Carty, said, and I quote, ''In any given airport the total schedules of all the airlines combined can and increasingly do exceed the capacity of the airport to handle the volume.''
He also noted that the anti-trust immunity had been tried before in 1984 and 1987 and it did work to reduce delays. I was interested to note in the history of that matter that the ability that DOT once had sunsetted, I guess in 1989.
So they have already had this mechanism in place. It has already worked to reduce delays. It is not the magic bullet, but it is one of the things that may help us.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This change in our outdated system of scheduling is long overdue. Earlier this month, our DOT Secretary, Norm Mineta, testified that he was supportive of the anti-trust immunity idea.
Also, I have a letter from the Airline Pilots Association dated April 24 that should be in each Members folder today, expressing the pilots' strong support for H.R.1407 and stating that this bill represents, and I quote from the letter: ''A profound and meaningful approach to dealing with delays and congestion that currently exist in the system and that the public demands we alleviate now.''
So I am pleased to see that the airline pilots are supportive also.
Therefore, I have been pleased to join with Members on the Minority side along with, of course, the chairman of the full committee, in sponsoring this legislation and helping now to move it through. We heard some concerns yesterday about making certain that this legislation does keep a fair playing field and that we don't violate scheduling potential conflicts that could arise. That is one of the reasons we have had the anti-trust provision in place in the beginning.
So hopefully, we can craft this working in a bipartisan fashion so that it does what we want it to do without causing some of the problems or potential conflicts in the scheduling or being against competition that I think we want to avoid.
With those opening comments, I am pleased to yield to the Ranking Member of the full committee, Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am very pleased that you are moving ahead decisively with the introduction of the legislation and hearings and hopefully very soon hereafter to markup. I think you indicated yesterday that that would be the case.
It is a credit to you and to Chairman Young to recognize that the committee can take action that will relieve at least a piece of this congestion puzzle.
Page 13 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In a way we had this hearing yesterday, without intending to do so. But the issues overlap into today's subject. Capacity is a multi-faceted aspect of our air traffic system. Capacity involves noise. It involves taxiways, runways. It involves the technology of air traffic control, the modernization that is underway. It involves redesign of the air space, routing and increasing throughput in that air space.
It also involves weather, over which we have no control, but which we can track and track coordinatively and cooperatively between the FAA and the airlines and airports, as well as scheduling, which is principally the issue of today's hearing.
There are times when redesign of scheduling will make a difference at the nation's airports. But as we heard at yesterday's hearing and the hearing last year on congestion, no airline is going to pull down service to create capacity only to have that space in the capacity puzzle filled by a competitor. They are not going to pull down service unless they all do it together.
That is what the legislation on which we hold the hearing today would do. It would create authority for carriers to get together in the public eye with DOT participating to create capacity.
As the chairman said just a moment ago, in 1984, the Civil Aeronautics Board, in the aftermath of the air traffic controllers strike, issued an order granting anti-trust immunity so that the airlines could meet, discuss schedules, rearrange flights in order to reduce delays in the aftermath of the problem of rebuilding the air traffic control system. That order did result in shifting 1300 flights at six major airports. In 1987 again, the DOT, which inherited the anti-trust authority from CAB ordered discussions among airlines immunized from anti-trust with a view toward reducing delays at the five major airports in the country. Again, some 600 flights were shifted.
Airlines in that context then were emboldened to take unilateral actions that were not countered by competitors and they made adjustments that, again, relieved congestion, relieved delays and increased capacity or at least increased reliability of schedules.
Page 14 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC This bill will recreate the past. That is a step that I have advocated since well over last year as a way of dealing with delay. Reductions in scheduling under this legislation will not create new capacity, but will make existing capacity more manageable and travel schedules more reliable.
Under the bill, the Secretary can approve airline requests. It is going to have to come from the airlines. It is not going to be imposed. He can approve airline requests for authority to discuss redistribution of schedules.
The authority will be granted only when the Secretary finds that there is no other alternative immediately achievable means. Discussions will be monitored by DOT and open to the public.
Now, there are protections that I think are very important. Participants are prohibited from discussing or reaching agreements on rates, fares, charges and in-flight service.
Another item that I feel is extremely important and that I insisted we include, and have insisted very strongly, but the Majority side readily understood that you would have to prohibit airline participants from discussing service to city pairs and submitted to other air carriers and foreign air carriers information on their proposed service or schedules in a way that may involve city pairs. This is necessary to prevent carriers from carving up markets to serve their own financial interests and minimize adverse effect on competition that could come out of these schedule discussions.
It will also allow the Secretary of Transportation to impose conditions on the agreements where the Secretary of Transportation sees it necessary to protect the public interest.
With those caveats and protections for the public interest, I think this is basically good legislation. We heard yesterday from a number of witnesses. They favor it. Again, we move ahead on this as one piece of a very big, complex issue of congestion and capacity.
Page 15 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I look forward to the witnesses' testimony. Thank you.
Mr. MICA. Thank you.
Since this is sort of a continuation of yesterday, Mr. Lipinski and I discussed limiting the opening statements unless someone feels compelled. I do owe Mr. Ehlers. He returned yesterday and we cut off the meeting just as he returned. I will recognize the gentleman at this time.
Mr. EHLERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will be very brief in the spirit of getting to this quickly. It is an excellent bill. I certainly support it. I hope we report it out soon and get it through into legislation.
But at the same time, I just want to mention that we shouldn't kid ourselves. This is not really going to solve the problem. It is going to be a little increment to improve it.
The real issues are airport capacity, air traffic control and weather. Those are the three major items causing delays. We have to improve airport capacity. As we heard yesterday, several airports need additional runways. In a few cases we need new airports. That has to be very high on the agenda.
Air traffic control we can certainly improve and we are working on that. Once we get the GPS-WAAS system and improved management of the information provided by that, I think we can go a long way towards increasing capacity and reducing delays.
Weather is the one item we cannot change, but again, through additional information, better coordination, better traffic control, I think we can even ameliorate some of the effects of weather.
So I strongly encourage the passage of this particular bill, but let us recognize the real issues are other ones we have to deal with and I hope we deal with those soon.
Thank you very much.
Page 16 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. MICA. I thank the gentleman.
Is there anyone else? I don't want to treat anyone unfairly who didn't get a chance yesterday.
All right. We will turn to our first witnesses here. We have on our panel Mr. James L. Casey. He is Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of the Air Transport Association; Ms. Deborah McElroy, President of the Regional Airline Association; and Mr. Dick Swauger, the Technical Coordinator for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
I want to welcome the three witnesses. I am glad we did this in the fashion we did, carrying this over today. I think everyone was about pooped out yesterday afternoon. So this will give us a chance to hear your comments and concentrate again on the proposal before us, H.R.1407.
So with those comments, let me recognize James L. Casey with the Air Transport Association first.
STATEMEMT OF JAMES L. CASEY, VICE PRESIDENT AND DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA
Mr. CASEY. Good morning, Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee. We appreciate very much the opportunity to discuss this bill this morning with you. We particularly appreciate the promptness with which the sponsors of H.R.1407 drafted and introduced the bill.
We agree with the premise of the bill, that the delay situation is both very serious and needs to be addressed immediately and decisively.
Airlines increasingly have been making unilateral schedule realignments to respond to delays. H.R.1407 would enable appropriately coordinated responses to delays in specific airports. From our perspective, therefore, the legislation is an important but interim response to the delay situation. No one should assume that a schedule readjustment regime, even the voluntary one that H.R.1407 would create, will eliminate our delay problem, because scheduling only accounts for a small portion of it.
Page 17 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The underlying need is to create substantial new airport and airways infrastructure to serve the needs of the traveling and shipping public. The FAA has forecast that we will be carrying one billion passengers by the year 2010. That is a 47 percent increase over the number of passengers that we carried last year, the year 2000.
We therefore cannot procrastinate in expanding capacity. Access to the national air transportation system, whether by way of an incumbent carrier or a new entrant, whether from a small community or a major metropolitan area, will increasingly depend upon introducing more capacity.
We believe that two preliminary considerations are worth noting when discussing delay reduction initiatives. First, even assuming the most liberal interpretation of the effect of air carrier operations on delays, FAA OPSNET data indicate that nearly 90 percent of all delays are attributable to other causes, principally weather.
Consequently, any response to delays that merely focuses on demand management will only affect a small proportion of delays.
Secondly, air traffic has grown at essentially the pace that the federal government estimated a decade ago. In other words, overall U.S. airline operations have generated, in the long term, predictable demands on aviation infrastructure resources.
More importantly, as we look forward, future needs are quite predictable. As demand for air transportation has increased, airlines have become more efficient in providing it. For example, the industry's load factor, the percentage of seats filled, exceeded 72 percent last year, a ten-percentage point increase over that figure for the year 1990.
Unhappily, improvements in airport and airways infrastructure have lagged despite the all too accurate FAA traffic growth predictions. Consequently, we now find ourselves in a situation where H.R.1407 is a realistic piece of an overall effort to ameliorate shortcomings in the system.
Page 18 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC H.R.1407 thus is a welcome initiative. It demonstrates that Congressional aviation leaders are working to improve the systems so that passengers can be better served.
The bill sensibly takes into account a number of important considerations. First, it enables air carriers to attempt to respond voluntarily to delays at specific airports and thereby avoids government-imposed operational restrictions.
Secondly, while providing a government-overseen means to adjust carrier schedules, H.R.1407 prohibits discussion of rates, fares, charges, in-flight services and city pairs. Those are appropriate prohibitions.
Finally, and very importantly, the bill has an explicit sunset provision.
In sum, H.R.1407 would advance a significant public interest objective, relieving delays, in a way that would not undermine the basic commitment to rely upon market forces to determine the price and service options for air transportation.
As we noted in our prepared statement, we would suggest one technical revision to H.R.1407. The authority that the bill would create would terminate on September 30, 2003. We suggest that the termination date be changed to October 26th of that year to coincide with the end of daylight saving time. It is on that date that carriers will make their fall schedule changes. Synchronizing the bill's sunset date with the schedule change date would be more efficient and less disruptive to passengers.
In assessing the potential effect of H.R.1407, three points are worth bearing in mind. First, as I noted previously, air carriers scheduling generates only a small proportion of the delays that we are experiencing. Therefore, although schedule readjustments that occur because of this legislation would have beneficial effects, they by no means will eliminate delay problems.
Second, conceivably, there may be some lag in implementing DOT-approved schedule changes due to crew scheduling requirements.
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Third, H.R.1407's sunset date, whether it is September 30th of 2003 or October 26 of 2003, as we suggest, is crucial because all concerned must understand the need for a dedicated commitment to produce the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the needs of the traveling and shipping public.
We appreciate the subcommittee's efforts reflected in this legislation to foster voluntary schedule adjustments where the need is demonstrated. Such a voluntary approach conducted in an appropriately overseen framework is the response that is least likely to do violence to competition in the airline industry.
Our concern is that this short-term initiative not be interpreted as diminishing the commitment to generate the airport and airways capacity improvements that the public demands today and will increasingly expect in the future.
The one billion passengers we are forecast to carry in 2010 are counting on us to make good on that commitment.
Thank you for your attention.
Mr. MICA. I thank you and we will withhold questions until we have heard from all three of the panelists.
Deborah McElroy is the President of the Regional Airline Association. Welcome. You are recognized.
STATEMENT OF DEBORAH C. MCELROY, PRESIDENT, REGIONAL AIRLINE ASSOCIATION
Ms. MCELROY. Good morning, Chairman Mica, Representative Oberstar, and distinguished Members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to be part of the dialogue as you consider H.R.1407. We believe that this bill deserves careful consideration as an important part of the larger response to aviation congestion and delay.
Page 20 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I would ask that my full statement be submitted to the record and I will make abbreviated remarks.
Mr. MICA. Without objection, your entire statement will be part of the record.
Ms. MCELROY. Thank you, sir.
RAA represents 50 airlines that operate short-haul and medium-haul scheduled airline service linking smaller communities with larger cities and connecting hubs throughout the United States. Last year our members carried over 94 percent of the regional airline passengers.
Today, regional airlines serve 442 commercial airports in the lower 48 States and at 271 of these airports we provide the exclusive source of scheduled airline service. We are growing at impressive rates. In fact, we are the fastest growing segment of commercial aviation.
Last year we carried 85 million passengers, meaning that approximately one of every eight domestic passengers now travels on a regional carrier.
FAA has predicted continued growth for our industry. Within the next five years we expect passenger enplanements to exceed 117 million. Along with the positive impacts of this growth, we see storm clouds on the horizon. Regional airline passengers have also been subjected to delays and inconvenience.
We appreciate the efforts of this committee to allow us to work together to ensure expanded airport access and to make the system better for passengers and shippers. Without it, our ability to continue to provide regional jet and turboprop service to small communities could be reduced or even eliminated.
We fully recognize, as you do, that airlines have a role to play in alleviating congestion. Already larger carriers are independently looking at how they can adjust schedules, including those of their regional partners to alleviate congestion and delay.
Page 21 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The recently released FAA capacity benchmark study will assist in these efforts, providing airlines more information to consider congestion in a context larger than their own operations.
Similarly, RAA believes that H.R.1407, which grants limited anti-trust immunity, with appropriate safeguards, to airlines seeking to address congestion will provide further assistance for the airlines.
We welcome this effort by Congress to effect real improvement in the national aviation system to ensure that the supply of safe, efficient air travel can catch up with the present and ever-growing demand.
With this in mind, we respectfully request that you consider and address any potential impacts the legislation may have on service to small and medium-sized communities across the nation. While airline-scheduling efforts will play a small role in easing delay, as has been stated previously, there is no single silver bullet solution.
This committee led the industry toward modernization last year by providing the funding necessary for airports to build new runways and enhance existing ones. That means that the ability for airports to meet increasing demand will be enhanced in some fortunate circumstances by the construction of additional runways.
Despite this additional funding, however, airports are presently unable to construct new runways quickly enough at numerous locations to keep pace with demand. That is why we wholeheartedly support efforts to streamline and facilitate the NEPA procedures so environmental rules at the State, local and Federal level can be done concurrently.
Further the FAA should identify airports that are seeking to expand and where congestion is blocking critical access and focus resources to assist those airports in these efforts.
Despite the efforts of this committee to alleviate congestion and expedite airport expansion, some officials have suggested a different, more harmful approach to airport expansion, managing demand by imposing heavier premiums on aircraft landing during peak travel hours. RAA opposes this approach.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Proponents of congestion pricing acknowledge its objective is to force airlines to spread out their flights or encourage larger aircraft, thereby easing congestion by managing demand. The most immediate problem with this approach is its potentially serious impact on air travelers in small and medium-sized communities.
The smaller aircraft that proponents of a demand management approach would seek to consign are the very same regional carriers that serve small and medium-sized communities across the nation, communities with little, or in the case of 271 airports, no other travel options with the national air transportation system.
We are pleased that this committee, in crafting H.R.1407 recognizes the inherent problems in congestion pricing and instead offered a more logical, immediate approach through the limited anti-trust immunity with appropriate safeguards that will enhance the system for passengers and shippers.
In the 25 years that RAA has been representing regional carriers, we have also represented a dual constituency, advocating on behalf of not only the airlines, but also their passengers in smaller communities. In this capacity we have met with many of you and we appreciate your support to ensure that these communities have access to the national air transportation system.
Your message to us has been clear. Well-timed and affordable access to airline service is essential to the economic viability of these communities.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my formal remarks. I look forward to addressing any questions you or other Members of the committee might have.
Mr. MICA. Thank you.
We will recognize now Mr. Dick Swauger who is the technical coordinator for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Then we will get to questions.
You are recognized, sir. Thank you.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF DICK SWAUGER, TECHNOLOGY COORDINATOR, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION
Mr. SWAUGER. Good morning, Chairman Mica. Congressman Oberstar and Members of the subcommittee. I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify today on efforts to reduce airline flight delays.
I am Dick Swauger, Technology Coordinator for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. NATCA is the exclusive representative of over 15,000 FAA air traffic controllers, engineers, and other safety-related professionals.
Delays and cancellations, capacity and access constraints and traffic congestion continue to plague our national air space system. It is time for all interested parties to stop placing blame and to start working together on real, concrete solutions to this dilemma.
NATCA would like to commend the subcommittee for taking a proactive role in the debate over aviation delays. Legislation, such as H.R.1407 allowing air carriers to discuss their schedules is an important step in the right direction.
As a former air traffic controller, I can tell you that the men and women I represent are under extreme pressure to squeeze more aircraft into an already congested air space. Controllers are motivated to move aircraft as safely, efficiently and as quickly as possible. The longer a delayed aircraft is in a controller's air space or occupies concrete on the ground, the more difficult his job becomes.
Controllers go to enormous lengths to ensure the safety of millions of travelers each year. The delay problem is much like a three-legged stool, with capacity enhancements, airport capacity and capacity management, each representing a leg.
First, there are capacity enhancements in the form of new technology and air traffic procedures.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The FAA, under the leadership of Administrator Garvey, has made significant progress in modernizing the air traffic control system.
Over the past three years, the FAA has replaced or upgraded most of the major components of the air traffic control system. Yet, while continuing upgrades in new technology advances are necessary to ensure safe, efficient travel in the future, they will not solve the problem of airline delays.
Improvements in technology will enhance system capacity by five to 15 percent at best. This is where the second leg of the stool comes into play. There is no question that increased airport capacity will have a significant impact on reducing airline delays.
Fifty miles of concrete poured at our nation's 25 busiest airports will solve most of our aviation delays. A new runway can allow 30 to 40 more operations per hour. The problem, however, is that any airport construction or expansion plan faces a number of obstacles including political hurdles, space limitations, community opposition, noise restrictions and environmental concerns.
Meanwhile, we are fast approaching a crisis situation with respect to aviation gridlock. That is why capacity management, the third leg of our stool, is crucial. An airport's capacity to handle traffic is a function of its size, the layout of its runways, the air traffic patterns, both arriving and departing, and the timeframe in which a surge of traffic must be dealt with due to our airline scheduling.
Our system is built to allow for unfettered discretion in adding demand. However, you cannot add limitless demand to a finite system. A case in point is what happened in New York's LaGuardia Airport last summer when airlines filed for 600 slot exemptions within about a week. Market forces failed to limit the number of flights at LaGuardia Airport, so the FAA and the New York/New Jersey Port Authority had to step in.
Responsible scheduling of flights within airport capacity limits will go a long way toward alleviating delays. There is unused capacity in the system. All one has to do is look at the success enjoyed by Southwest Airlines in servicing regional airports.
Page 25 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It may also be possible to find unused capacity through a close examination of the requirements for separating aircraft. However, whether the capacity is increased through new runways, new technology or procedures such as air space redesign, additional air traffic controllers will be needed. A controller shortage will only exacerbate the delay crisis.
Thank you for allowing NATCA to testify today. I will be happy to answer any questions.
Mr. MICA. Thank you. I have a couple of questions to start out with. First, Mr. Casey, you said that one of the ultimate solutions is to build infrastructure. But I think testimony we had yesterday, the testimony we had weeks before is that it is difficult or almost impossible to build the new runway infrastructure that we need at the six or seven of the most congested airports. Isn't that still the situation?
Mr. CASEY. As far as runway capacity, yes. One notable exception would be Hartsfield, for example.
Mr. MICA. We do have that one exception, but we have found from the capacity reports, I mean everything everybody knows is that LaGuardia, as Ms. Kelly pointed out yesterday, 70 percent of the delays are in the New York area.
Then you go to Chicago and you have a horrible situation in Chicago. I joked that I have had five Members invite me to go look at new airport expansions there and I have had five Members threaten to kill me if I went to look at new airport expansion there.
So we are basically at a gridlock in developing new infrastructure. A lot of these are ''not in my backyard,'' local political issues. You have Governors, State legislators, Members of Congress on all sides of these.
It is a goal to work for. The EASE legislation, if we passed that today and we streamlined the environmental permitting, we are still looking at years before you see any concrete that you can land a plane on. Is that correct?
Page 26 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CASEY. I think that is true. I think that is one reason why as a bridging measure this legislation can be so effective.
Mr. MICA. That is right. It is not a magic bullet. But you have to look at things that are do-able. It has worked before. It is a minor step forward. I appreciate your positive comments.
Incidentally, since you represent ATA, you all have a date with me and Mr. Lipinski and other Members between now and the 10th. We will get you a date to report back on the passenger service improvements. I was promised by the first week in May that we would have an agreement on getting those items that we had agreed on and additional items into place and into an agreement on contract carriage agreements.
So I want to hold you to that. We will get you a date. Just for the notification of other Members, they are welcome to attend.
Ms. McElroy, I share your goal of trying to service some of the unserved regional airports. You spoke about 271 airports. Many of those have great capacity potential, but we can't get airlines to fly there.
Are there any incentives, anything beyond H.R.1407, anything that you might cite here today that we could take up in addition to get service into those locations?
Ms. MCELROY. Yes, sir. There was a program that was passed by the committee and Congress last year.
Mr. MICA. That was AIR-21, but it wasn't funded. It was top priority.
Ms. MCELROY. Yes, sir. I think that could provide great benefits for those communities. Again, a market-based solution where the airlines and the airport communities could work together could be very effective.
Mr. MICA. One quick question, Mr. Swauger. Of course, technology will help us. I guess the Mitre study said add 10 or 15 percent. We had Mr. Coyne testify yesterday. That is right might even be some additional efficiencies up to 20 percent. But there is still a finite number of planes that air traffic controllers can get on a runway in any hour.
Page 27 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We are still facing delays in getting some of the technology in place. Isn't' it true, though, even if we had that technology, we are still looking at 10 to say an optimistic 20 or 25 percent increase in ability to land planes in that finite space, even with these technologies in place which may not be in place for some years to come?
Mr. SWAUGER. Twenty-five percent is very, very high as far as what technology can do. But that is one of the things that I was interested in today about the airlines being able to talk to one another.
The technology that we are going to put into place will only work if the airlines can talk to one another and do something with it. I think balancing IFR traffic with VFR traffic is probably the most important technology that we will be able to develop. I think it is coming.
I am not talking about landing in storms. But there is no reason why airplanes can't fly as close together in the fog as they can when there is no fog. I think that is coming.
Mr. MICA. Thank you. I appreciate the testimony of all three witnesses. You have convinced me. So in that vein, I am going to schedule a markup for this bill on May 10th. We will mark up the bill.
I am open to any suggestions. The ATA suggestion on the date, I think that is a good one. We will include that. I am open to any suggestions from any of the Members. I hope they will work with the staff in the meantime, but I intend to mark up this bill on May 10th and I appreciate any other input you have, recommendations for changes.
With that, let me recognize Mr. Oberstar.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Casey, if we enact this legislation into law, establish this authority, will your member airlines use it?
Page 28 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CASEY. Yes, I believe they will.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I believe? Have they said they will use this authority?
Mr. CASEY. They are prepared to use it.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I don't want to see us go through a meaningless exercise and then have the airlines continue to complain about capacity and congestion and delays and we give them authority and they don't use it.
I want to be sure that you are directed by ATA to say we will use it. We will get together. We will do what we can to manage existing capacity to relieve congestion and delay.
Mr. CASEY. We have not talked about any specific situations, specific airports. We have talked about the usefulness of this legislation in the interim.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Okay. Now, given this authority, will the airline family be able to show us that they can move quickly to implement the authority?
Mr. CASEY. Yes.
Mr. OBERSTAR. You have computer capacity now vastly greater than it was when we first gave airlines this authority, so you ought to be able, if you can make as SABRE does, a million or so changes a day or at least track them and 100,000 fare changes a day. You ought to be able to make all these airline schedule changes as well; don't you think?
Mr. CASEY. I think we have that capacity.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I do recall a little bit of grumbling from ATA members when we did AIR-21 that ''Oh, my goodness, we can't possibly put this PFC increase number because our computers will find it very complex.''
By golly, it just worked real slick once we got it enacted. So I don't think we want to go through this exercise and then tolerate delay on the part of the carriers when we have given them a tool to deal with delay.
Page 29 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CASEY. We appreciate that. Also, it ought to be a much less complex exercise than reprogramming fares for PFCs.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Do you have some idea of the number of airports at which schedule changes will be necessary?
Mr. CASEY. No, we don't. One thing we want to do is take a look at yesterday's benchmark study to see how we can use that to make that type of assessment.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I think it would be useful for ATA to develop that kind of information before we get to a markup. We need to have information about that to see what the complexity might be and whether we might need to adjust the legislation in some way to deal with those concerns.
Mr. CASEY. We would be happy to give that a stab, Congressman Oberstar. I think one consideration from our perspective is to try to determine some of the causality, some of the causes that are in the data that are in the benchmark study. That may take a little time, but we will make a stab at it before the markup.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Very good. If you have some problems and you think there are some concerns that need to be more fully addressed than the legislation does, we need to know that soon so that we don't move precipitously without that input.
Mr. CASEY. We appreciate that offer. I don't think that is the issue. I think it is more the question of analyzing data rather than any kind of framework problems with the legislation.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Thank you.
Ms. McElroy, thank you very much for your testimony and for your strong representation of regional carriers. I think most of my colleagues on this committee use your carriers on a regular basis. We are grateful to them for getting us hicks from the sticks to the big cities.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You expressed concern about small communities. I addressed that matter in my opening remarks.
Mr. Honda is laughing about ''hicks from the sticks.'' We were hicks from the sticks up there until we called it ''quality of life'' and then people started coming to see us.
Can we adequately assure that small communities will not be disserved by any decisions made in the scheduling process?
Ms. MCELROY. Congressman Oberstar, I will have the opportunity to meet with my airline presidents next week. We are convening at our annual convention. This is a subject that we will discuss. So I will have to promise you an IOU on that point.
We have had very productive discussions with the subcommittee staff. But there may be additional information that we will bring back to you. We will commit to do that well before the markup.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Do any of your member carriers report that their turboprop aircraft are put in holding patterns more frequently than aircraft of the majors in deference to those aircraft?
Ms. MCELROY. Yes, sir, although I think it is more a function of the routes that they serve as opposed to the size of the airports. Regional air carriers are often the victims of first tier holds which tend to hold traffic in from airports 250 to 300 miles to allow the longer haul traffic to come in.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Exactly. I spend a lot of time in those holding patterns. I know it is done for a number of reasons, wake, vortex, turbulence and so forth. But there are more passengers on 757s than there are on a Saab.
What I want you and your members to think about is what scenarios might develop in the scheduling committee that will be established as a result of this legislation that might exacerbate the situation for regional carriers.
Page 31 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCELROY. We will do that, sir.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I note you do not make any such reference of any such detailed nature in your testimony.
Ms. MCELROY. We have been fortunate to add staff and we are working much more closely with the FAA and the air traffic controllers union to look at both technological and procedural changes that we can make within our operations and our aircraft to move more efficiently in the system in an attempt to reduce those holds.
But I agree with you. We need to look at that in the context of this legislation.
Mr. OBERSTAR. Very good. Thank you. I will have further questions later. Thank you.
Mr. MICA. Thank you. Let me recognize the gentle lady who is talking right now, Mrs. Kelly. It is important that we hear from her since most of the problems emanate from her region.
Mrs. KELLY. I am being accused down here of all the problems always being in the New York region. We at least know when we are flying in and out of New York, yes, we do have major problems.
I really am interested in a couple of things here. One of the things that I had a question about was the flight caps. I really need to understand capping flights better. I know that people are concerned about the ramifications of capping flights.
In the process of allowing the airlines to talk within the framework of this bill, I am interested in whether or not those talks in effect might serve as the airlines themselves capping. I would like to have you answer that. Do you think that there could be a spillover effect where the airlines themselves will cap off flights from the small airports into some of these regional hubs like LaGuardia Airport and Kennedy?
Page 32 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. CASEY. I don't think so. That would not be my expectation. First of all, the problem with capping is two-fold. One is that it freezes a situation. It doesn't allow for any growth. So any kind of dynamism is totally restrained.
The second is that it creates a zero sum game. So that, for example, if one carrier wants to move a flight from one hour to another, it is going to be at the expense of the carrier serving in that other hour.
So it is just not an attractive situation, either from the traveling and shipping public's perspective or the air carrier's perspective. Obviously, at airports where capacity runs out and there are inordinate delays, there is going to be a lot of self-discipline by any carrier in terms of increasing operations.
As far as service to small communities, I would anticipate that that will continue as robustly as it is today because what we are dealing with are network carriers that are trying to collect as much traffic as they can and interject it into their systems. So I don't think there is an identifiable threat here in this legislation to service to small communities.
Mrs. KELLY. So you are saying, if I understand you correctly, that if we give the anti-trust immunity and the airlines start talking that you don't feel there is any concern that there could be any reduction in service from the small communities?
Mr. CASEY. I don't believe so. That is not how I would anticipate this occurring. I think that if this legislation is enacted into law what you will see is an effort to de-peak schedules, not for wholesale reductions in schedules. In other words, moving schedules so that a particular airport can more efficiently accept arrivals and departures.
Mrs. KELLY. Is there anything else you think we should do in this bill to try to provide some kind of an additional protection for the small communities?
Mr. CASEY. I don't believe so, because I think it is in the inherent interest of the major carriers to attract travelers from small communities as well as less modestly sized communities.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCELROY. If I could add something, Mrs. Kelly, I know that when both Delta and American Air Lines looked at individual hubs, looked at going through a process to de-peak, there was very strong participation with their regional carriers and a strong cognizance of the importance of retaining service from the smaller communities, not only because of the importance of that service, but because quite frankly, that service is very important to their bottom line in terms of the efficiency of the network hub and spoke system.
Mrs. KELLY. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. MICA. Thank you.
Let me recognize properly the gentleman from Oregon. Sorry for my mistake yesterday.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Mr. Chairman, I do have just a few questions. Mr. Casey, on page three of your testimony, I am a bit puzzled as to what problem you think the public would cause in terms of monitoring these discussions. I hear so often that the whole system is driven by the demands of the public, and that the reason we have a hub and spoke systems and it is congested is because people are demanding to fly at certain times.
Don't you think it would be an educational exercise for those of us who are demanding to fly at times when there is no capacity to be allowed to sit in on these meetings?
Mr. CASEY. Yes, I am sure it would be.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay, then why do you suggest that the public should be prohibited?
Mr. CASEY. Well, my thought was that the interested parties, the airports, the communities would be there. The media would be there. It would just be easier to proceed with a lower key kind of environment. But if the subcommittee doesn't agree with that, that is fine. We don't regard that as a key objection.
Page 34 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. DEFAZIO. Well, I am pleased it is not a key objection. I hope that we can ignore your statement there.
To Ms. McElroy, I am still a bit puzzled by your concerns about small and medium-sized communities. Is there more than one issue here? Are there some things we are not hearing that you think might arise from these discussions that would discriminate against the regional carriers?
Ms. MCELROY. Since this is a process where many of my carriers didn't have the experience from the previous effort that took place in the late 1980s, I honestly don't know. As I responded to Congressman Oberstar, we would like to leave a placeholder here, sir.
That is why I said we would like to have discussions with the subcommittee once we have had an opportunity to talk to our members next week. There is a wide variety in terms of those regional carriers, very large and very small. We want to ensure that when they are familiar with the provisions of this bill that there is not something that we have missed.
So in terms of being comprehensive in our approach to you, we would like the opportunity to come back if there is something that comes up.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. That is fair. I was just concerned about your statement, and I wanted to be sure that we are looking at it. We do not want to put the regionals at a competitive disadvantage here.
Mr. Swauger, ''It may be possible to find unused capacity through a close examination of the requirements for separating aircraft.''
We heard a little bit about this yesterday and you are talking about it in your testimony today. So, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association--I thought that in the past it was somewhat at the insistence of the controllers we maintained the greater separation.
You are saying now that the controllers are behind the idea of reviewing and potentially reducing some of the separation requirements?
Page 35 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SWAUGER. Not just per se separation. The separation requirements that are in effect today are very old. We have better equipment. We have better radar. We think that we could possibly reduce the separation, as they have done at some airports from three to two and a half miles on the final.
We could probably, in most areas of the centers, reduce from five to four miles, just because we have better equipment. The separation standards go back to my day and that is a long time ago.
We need to look at that and if it proves to be unsafe, we certainly won't enter into it. But I think if you examine the airports that went from three to two and a half, you will find that they have had no problems.
Mr. DEFAZIO. How would you suggest moving forward with a review of separation standards that is expedient, but which assures that we are not doing something that is unsafe?
Mr. SWAUGER. I think you have to use the FAA's technical center up in New Jersey. Get together with the NASA people. They have been doing some tremendous work with simulators. I think we could possibly be able to learn a whole lot from what they have already done.
The separation standards right now are too great, especially with the snitch machine in the centers that turns the controller in for a bare five miles or 4.9 miles. That is ludicrous. That makes a good controller put more space between airplanes than he needs because he is afraid of being turned in by the machine.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Who would initiate this? How should we initiate this review? I am not aware that there is currently a high level review of these standards going on by the FAA.
Mr. SWAUGER. I don't think there is, but if we could get it started with the rule-making committee, we might be able to push it through. I think everybody is hesitant to do so because they are afraid that people are going to look at it as a safety risk, which we don't buy.
Page 36 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. OBERSTAR. Would the gentleman yield?
Mr. DEFAZIO. I would certainly yield.
Mr. OBERSTAR. I just want to follow up on that point that yes, we do have better tracking equipment today than ten years, five years ago. But the tracking equipment doesn't change wake vortex.
Now, how close in trail do you think it is safe to follow a 757, which everybody has generally agreed is classified as a wide-body and in which environment? Is it in the en route environment at altitude or in the terminal radar control environment? How much closer can you go knowing what we know about wake turbulence and under which consequence?
Mr. SWAUGER. Well, this goes all the way back to Tim Chism and his discovery of vortex turbulence. But what we need to be able to do, sir, and I think you have probably been looking into this yourself, we need to be able to track the vortices. NASA is taking a good look at that.
It doesn't matter, in the center environment you can be 20 miles behind another aircraft and still suffer from the vortices. You want to be able to see it. The equipment, I think, can be put into airplanes as soon as it is approved where they will be able to actually see the vortices.
It would be the same way as you can see them with an airplane coming in in very moist air, you see the actual vortices coming off the wing tip. You will be able to see that on a scope in the plane. That is the way to avoid it, not the mileage, because five miles in a smaller airplane behind a 747 or a 757 is not enough. It could put that airplane on the ground.
They need to be able to see the vortices first.
Mr. OBERSTAR. My point is we don't have that kind of equipment in place yet.
Mr. SWAUGER. Not yet.
Page 37 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. OBERSTAR. Okay.
Mr. MICA. I thank the gentleman.
Mr. Thune. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am interested in that discussion as well because I think the modernization issue is one that plays heavily into the future of congestion in the airports in this country.
I would like to just pick up and probably note for the record more than anything else some of the concerns I have about questions that were posed earlier by Mrs. Kelly on service into smaller communities, smaller airports.
In South Dakota, we have, of course, some regional airlines that fly regional jets into some of our communities. My impression is, and maybe this is just an impression, that smaller airports that are close to hubs, within that 250-350 mile radius, get a lot of the delays because of the congestion that occurs in some of the hub-type airports, that it is those smaller communities that seem to get penalized.
I speak some from personal experience. You can disabuse me of this notion if you would like to, but if there are decisions, sometimes based on economics, that the smaller communities and the smaller planes that are going to serve those communities, that if there is going to be a delay or cancellation that it seems to be the case.
Now, again, in looking at this legislation, my concern would be that we not exaggerate that, that we not worsen that situation and that any information that is exchanged between airlines not be used in a way that would further penalize some of the smaller communities.
I don't know if there is any data to that effect. I would be curious to know, just delays into the smaller, what you would call the Sioux Falls type airports, the Rapid City type airports, relative to some of the other airports across the country and the delays that the airlines experience in serving those airports. Is there any of that data out there that you would be aware of?
Page 38 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. MCELROY. I have not seen it specifically, but I am sure it is available. I would hate to characterize all small communities as seeing a larger percentage of first tier holds than perhaps their larger counterparts.
But I know that we have heard from many of our carriers that it was very difficult for them to maintain schedule integrity because the way the regionals work, they bring people in from the small communities to the hub airports, take them out to either that community or another community. When you do experience those kinds of delays, because we do have very short terms at the hub oftentimes, that is a problem. Quite frankly, that is why we at RAA have focused on this issue of air traffic and have been working with our carriers, the FAA, and the flight controllers to see how we can make that system better, whether we need to look at taking better advantage of the equipment on the aircraft.
Certainly the regional jets have FMS. They have GPS. So maybe there are ways that we can work with the FAA and the controllers to make the system better. I think also as part of these schedule adjustments that might occur under this bill or independently, those will be looked at as well, because it is important for the majors, not only for the viability of their connecting passengers, but also for the bottom line, to ensure that the feed traffic gets into the hubs from those communities.
Mr. CASEY. I don't have any information about any disproportionate effect on regional carriers as far as ATC holds are concerned. But in terms of your overall concern, it seems to me that what you have heard this morning is that regional service is an integral part of the system as far as the major carriers are concerned. They are just not going to be in a situation where they are going to harm that kind of a feed service, number one.
Secondly, the bill specifically prohibits mentioning city pairs in any kind of discussions that are held. I think that is another safeguard, in addition to the economic safeguard because of the integral nature of regional airline service to majors today.
Page 39 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The second safeguard is a legal one and that is that city pairs cannot be discussed during these discussions that DOT may authorize.
Mr. THUNE. I would just add that as you hear from some of your members next week, if you have thoughts or suggestions, I certainly would welcome them. I just want to make sure that there are, as I know, Mr. Casey, some safeguards that are in here.
Those of us who come from rural areas of the country want to be certain that as this process moves forward that in trying to improve the overall efficiency at the hub airports and address the congestion issues that we don't worsen some of the delay issues that might be out there or in any way disproportionately impact some of those smaller airports that are served by regional carriers.
It is awfully important in my part of the country. I would like to be, I guess, more convinced perhaps than I am today that if we enact something like this that service in those areas would not be impacted.
So I appreciate your testimony. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. MICA. Let me recognize the gentleman from North Carolina.
Mr. HAYES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thanks to the panel for being here.
As I listen to this discussion, I am very supportive of this effort to improve our airlines system and our air traffic control system.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for taking us to Leesburg a couple of weeks ago. We witnessed there the airlines on a two-hour basis talking together, working on scheduling problems due to weather and other things that I think obviously was very helpful to them.
What we are talking about here, in my opinion, is a similar type of operation.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC To speculate a minute on Mr. Thune's question, being a user of the Pierre, South Dakota airport, obviously Minneapolis ground hold is going to affect ground traffic out of Pierre.
Now, if this is an illegal question, Mr. Chairman, blow the whistle on me. But you have a number of carriers in Minneapolis who want the prime slots. That is a competitive marketing decision. Is there any way that Sioux Falls or Pierre, as an example, could combine their regional carrier efforts so that instead of having more planes carrying fewer people, you have fewer planes carrying more people which frees up more space at Minneapolis in this example? Is that something that is being discussed which would create more space in the system?
Ms. MCELROY. The carriers are constantly reevaluating the size of the aircraft and the frequency of the service. But what we have heard from a number of the small communities is that frequency is very important to them. It is important to maintain the viability of service.
If they felt that they were relegated to only one flight a day and they now have three that would pose difficulties for them.
Quite frankly, those flights are also timed to meet the banks of the major airlines. So while it is something that the carriers constantly look at, we are concerned with artificially forcing the carriers to larger aircraft if the markets aren't appropriately sized for them.
Ultimately this could mean reduced service to that community, which could have a negative economic impact. It is being considered, but you need to make sure that the market is appropriate.
Mr. HAYES. Mr. Chairman, is my time up or did you not set the shot clock?
Mr. MICA. Go right ahead.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. HAYES. Okay. Back to the example a minute, you were talking about frequency of flights versus reliability of timing. Now, in your example, three flights a day, it would be kind of hard to cut that back, morning, evening and late at night.
I was thinking more of a situation where you had concentration of flights, eight o'clock, and five o'clock, that type of thing.
Another comment, as a user of the air traffic control system, on Tuesday in the afternoon we had a frontal passage in Washington. I got here about 15 minutes after the front did. That was a remarkably effective and efficient final controller in Washington National who was doing a superb job of threading us through the three thunderstorms that were sitting on us for arrival.
That kind of human not only performance and capability leads me to my next comment about shortening up the amount of space between aircraft. I think that is certainly something that we can look at doing.
If you just as an observer sat and watched how they control traffic at National, you can see that the spacing is a function of efficiency, effectiveness and professionalism of the men and women who run the system.
In terms of a vortex problem, typically in a descent mode, of course, the vortex is going to be below the aircraft anyway and the airplane following is going to be above it. Your biggest concern is the heavy aircraft in a take-off configuration.
So I think your point there is well made and I would hope that you would continue to pursue that option with safety certainly foremost in your mind.
At the same time, I hope we could figure out within the committee and the industry a way to make the FAA a little bit more responsive, a little quicker moving. If they were an airplane it we had certainly cut back the number of flights per day we could get them in the air because there are some things with equipment that can be done in our reliever airports that would enhance safety, improve traffic flow. It would not take much to do it if we could help them move a little bit more quickly.
Page 42 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The last thing, Mr. Chairman, in our area of the country, North Carolina, reliever airports, particularly business aviation, have done, I think, an excellent job of providing more space into the heavily commercial use airports.
So this committee and the Transportation Committee are to be commended. I think AIR-21 moves us in the direction of continuing to provide more help for the carriers that way.
Thank you for being here.
Mr. MICA. Thank you.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Oberstar, particularly, had a question he wanted Dick Swauger to answer. The Ranking Member is concerned about some recent statements that are attributed actually to our former colleague, the Secretary of Transportation, regarding problems with the weather radar. In particular, these statements imply that somehow the weather radar may have changed the behavior of controllers in such a way that it is detrimental to the system, and that they have become perhaps too sensitive to weather.
Could you comment on that suggestion or allegation?
Mr. SWAUGER. Yes, I can. I don't quite understand what better equipment would do to make a controller over cautious. In fact, I don't think I know any over cautious air traffic control, especially in the Biggs. So I would say that I can't understand how it would do that.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Well, the allegation is that in 1998 when the new radar became operable there was a big jump in delays. Therefore, because there was a big jump in delays in 1998, and I am sort or paraphrasing what my good friend, the Secretary, said, the new radar is a cause of the delays.
Page 43 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SWAUGER. Well, he is a good friend of mine, too. I think he is doing a wonderful job, but I can't figure out where that one came from.
Mr. DEFAZIO. Okay. Thank you. I think that answers Mr. Oberstar's question.
Mr. MICA. I want to thank our three panelists today. We appreciate your input on this pending legislative proposal. We look forward to working with you.
We do truly solicit any recommendations for changes in the legislation before the markup and as we proceed.
Again, thank you on behalf of the subcommittee.
With the agreement of the Minority, we are going to leave the record of this hearing open for ten days. Without objection, it is so ordered.
I also have a letter that we would like to submit without objection on behalf of the Airline Pilots Association, which was submitted to me.
If any other Members have any information or statements to be made a part of the record, we will include them without objection.
There being no further business to come before the subcommittee, again, I thank our witnesses.
This meeting is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 12:20 p.m. the subcommittee was adjourned, to reconvene at the call of the Chair.]
A BILL TO AMEND TITLE 49, UNITED STATES CODE, TO PERMIT AIR CARRIERS TO MEET AND DISCUSS THEIR SCHEDULES IN ORDER TO REDUCE FLIGHT DELAYS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SCHEDULING COMMITTEES, DISCUSSIONS, AND AGREEMENTS.
(a) IN GENERAL.Chapter 401 of title 49, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
''§40129. Air carrier discussions of and agreements relating to flight scheduling
''(a) DISCUSSIONS TO REDUCE DELAYS.
''(1) REQUEST.An air carrier may file with the Secretary of Transportation a request for authority to discuss with one or more other air carriers or foreign air carriers agreements or cooperative arrangements relating to limiting flights at an airport during a time period that the Secretary determines that scheduled air transportation exceeds the capacity of the airport. The purpose of the discussion shall be to reduce delays at the airport during such time period.
''(2) APPROVAL.The Secretary shall approve a request filed under this subsection if the Secretary finds that the discussions requested will facilitate voluntary adjustments in air carrier schedules that could lead to a substantial reduction in travel delays and improvement of air transportation service to the public. The Secretary may impose such terms and conditions to an approval under this subsection as the Secretary determines are necessary to protect the public interest and to carry out the objectives of this subsection.
''(3) NOTICE.Before a discussion may be held under this subsection, the Secretary shall provide at least 3 days notice of the proposed discussion to all air carriers and foreign air carriers that are providing service to the airport that will be the subject of such discussion.
''(4) MONITORING.The Secretary or a representative of the Secretary shall attend and monitor any discussion or other effort to enter into an agreement or cooperative arrangement under this subsection.
Page 45 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC ''(5) DISCUSSIONS OPEN TO PUBLIC.A discussion held under this subsection shall be open to the public.
''(1) REQUEST.An air carrier may file with the Secretary a request for approval of an agreement or cooperative arrangement relating to interstate air transportation, and any modification of such an agreement or arrangement, reached as a result of a discussion held under subsection (a).
''(2) APPROVAL.The Secretary shall approve an agreement, arrangement, or modification for which a request is filed under this subsection if the Secretary finds that the agreement, arrangement, or modification is not adverse to the public interest and is necessary to reduce air travel delays and that a substantial reduction in such delays cannot be achieved by any other immediately available means.
''(1) RATES, FARES, CHARGES, AND IN-FLIGHT SERVICES.The participants in a discussion approved under subsection (a) may not discuss or enter into an agreement or cooperative arrangement regarding rates, fares, charges, or in-flight services.
''(2) CITY PAIRS.The participants in a discussion approved under subsection (a) may not discuss particular city pairs or submit to another air carrier or foreign air carrier information concerning their proposed service or schedules in a fashion that indicates the city pairs involved.
''(d) TERMINATION.This section shall cease to be in effect after September 30, 2003; except that an agreement, cooperative arrangement, or modification approved by the Secretary in accordance with this section may continue in effect after such date at the discretion of the Secretary.''.
(b) CONFORMING AMENDMENT.The analysis for such chapter is amended by adding at the end the following:
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''40129. Air carrier discussions and agreements relating to flight scheduling.''.
SEC. 2. LIMITED EXEMPTION FROM ANTITRUST LAWS.
Section 41308 of title 49, United States Code, is amended
(1) in subsection (b) by striking ''41309'' and inserting ''40129, 41309,''; and
(2) in subsection (c)
(A) by inserting ''40129 or'' before ''41309'' the first place it appears; and
(B) by striking ''41309(b)(1),'' and inserting ''40129(b) or ''41309(b)(1), as the case may be,''.
Testimony of Bill Blackmer, Director of Safety and Technology, National Air Traffic Controllers Association
Good morning Chairman Mica, Congressman Lipinski, and members of the Subcommittee. I want to thank you for this opportunity to appear before the Subcommittee to discuss efforts to reduce airline flight delays. I am Bill Blackmer, Director of Safety and Technology for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.
NATCA is the exclusive representative of over 15,000 air traffic controllers serving the FAA, Department of Defense and private sector. In addition, NATCA represents approximately 1,200 FAA engineers, over 600 traffic management coordinators, agency operational support staff, regional personnel from FAA's logistics, budget, finance and computer specialist divisions, and agency occupational health specialists, nurses and medical program specialists.
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Airline delays and cancellations, capacity and access constraints, and traffic congestion continue to plaque our National Airspace System. Passenger frustration is over the top and customers are unhappy. It is time for all interested parties to stop placing blame and to start working together on real, concrete solutions to this dilemma.
NATCA would like to commend the Subcommittee for taking a proactive role in the debate over aviation delays. Legislation such as H.R. 1407 allowing air carriers to discuss their schedules is an important step in the right direction.
As an air traffic controller, I can tell you that we are under extreme pressure to squeeze more aircraft into an already congested airspace. Our motivation is to move aircraft as safely, efficiently and quickly as possible. The longer a delayed aircraft is in our airspace or occupies concrete on the ground, the more difficult our jobs become. Controllers go to enormous lengths to ensure the safety of millions of flyers each year. Safety is our business and business is good.
Aviation delays are a multi-faceted problem and, just as there is not one cause, there is no blanket solution or quick fix to the problem. The delay problem is much like a three-legged stool with capacity enhancements, airport capacity and capacity management each representing a leg.
First, there are capacity enhancements in the form of new technology and air traffic procedures. The FAA, under the leadership of Administrator Garvey, has made significant progress in modernizing the air traffic control system. Over the past 3 years, the FAA has replaced or upgraded most of the major components of the air traffic control system. Our system can no longer be characterized as ''outdated and antiquated.'' However, modernization is an ongoing process, and NATCA will continue to work with the agency to move new technologies into the workplace as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible.
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Yet, while continuing upgrades and new technological advances are necessary to ensure safe, efficient travel in the future, they will not solve the problem of airline delays. According to the FAA and MITRE Corporation, improvements in air traffic control technology will enhance system capacity by 5 to 15 percent at best. While newer equipment will greatly increase reliability, it will not change the number of aircraft that can land or depart at any given time.
This is where the second legour nation's aviation infrastructureof the stool comes into play. There is no question that increased airport capacity will have a significant impact on reducing airline delays. Airport constructionterminals, taxiways, runaways, gateshas not kept pace with passenger growth. According to the July 25, 2000 DOT Inspector General Audit Report, only nine new runways were opened at the country's 100 largest airports between 1995 and 1999. And, only three of these nine runways were built at the nation's 28 largest airports. While proposals exist for 15 new runways at our nation's largest airports, construction has only begun at five of these facilities.
Capacity can be increased through construction, and AIR21 provides the necessary financial resources. Fifty miles of concrete poured at our nation's 25 busiest airports will solve most of our aviation delays. A new runway can allow 30 to 40 more operations per hour. The problem, however, is that any airport construction or expansion plan faces a number of obstacles including political hurdles, space limitations, community opposition, noise restrictions and environmental concerns. It can take years for a project to be approved. Meanwhile, we are fast approaching a crisis situation with respect to aviation gridlock.
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That is why capacity managementthe third leg of out stoolis crucial. An airport's capacity to handle traffic is a function of its size, the layout of its runways, the air traffic patterns, both arriving and departing, and the time frame in which a surge of traffic must be dealt with due to airline scheduling. Our system is built to allow for unfettered discretion in adding demand. However, you can not add limitless demand to a finite system. Case in point is what happened at New York's LaGuardia Airport last summer when airlines filed for 600 slot exemptions within about a week. Market forces failed to limit the number of flights at LaGuardia, so the FAA and the New York/New Jersey Port Authority had to step in.
Delays occur every day at every major U.S. airport. Schedules are made to reduce operating costs and maximize revenue without regard for other airlines, terminal airspace or airport capacity. At ''peak'' times, dozens of planes are simultaneously taxiing for take-off or queuing above the airport in a finite amount of terminal airspace. This is where the laws of physics kick in. Given runway capacity, only certain number of flights can depart and arrive within a specified time period. Therefore, scheduling during peak hours contributes to delays at busy airports even in good weather. All scheduled flights will not be able to arrive on time. Responsible scheduling of flights within airport capacity limits will go a long way toward alleviating delays.
There is unused capacity in the system. All one has to do is look at the success enjoyed by Southwest Airlines to see proof of this. The DOT Inspector General notes in the July 25, 2000 Audit Report, ''Air Carrier Flight Delays and Cancellations'' that the majority of the increase in flight operations and passenger enplanements over the next 15 years will occur at the nation's 28 largest airports. While most of these airports and the surrounding airspace have already exceeded existing capacity, regional airports are being underused and ignored. A close examination of the use of our nation's existing airports is needed. NATCA believes that certain city airports are better suited for originating and/or terminating flights than associated hub airports. Increased usage of these airports by passengers and airlines will alleviate congestion and delays at the hubs.
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It may also be possible to find unused capacity through a close examination of the requirements for separating aircraft. Separation standards are designed to ensure the safety of aircraft and its passengers from other aircraft. The FAA separation standards, which date back to the 1950s, require 5 miles laterally in the en route environment, 3 miles laterally in the terminal airspace, and 1,000 to 2,000 feet vertical depending on altitude. Therefore, an operational error can occur when one aircraft is trailing another by 2.8 miles instead of the requisite three miles. NATCA believes that it is time to consider safe and reasonable changes to these separation standards.
The air traffic controller workforce serves on the front line, managing thousands of commercial, military, and general aviation operations on a daily basis. Twenty years ago this summer, over 11,000 air traffic controllers were fired as a result of the PATCO strike. Now, two decades later, the air traffic controller workforce and the country is about to feel the aftershock of that event. The thousands of controllers hired during the post strike recovery period will reach retirement eligibility in just a short period of time. By 2010, cumulative retirements will exceed 50% percent of the workforce. We need to ensure that there are enough qualified and trained air traffic controllers to handle today's increasing workload and to prepare for the coming wave of controller retirements. Mandatory overtime, six-day work weeks and understaffed shifts are what air traffic controllers will be facing if the government does not do something now to prepare for this crisis. Currently, there are not enough controllers to fill the gap, and it takes anywhere from 2 to 4 years to become a full performance level controller. We believe that the FAA must immediately begin hiring and training the next generation of air traffic controllers.
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I would like to again thank the members of the Subcommittee for allowing NATCA to testify on efforts to reduce airline flight delays. Without expanding domestic airspace and airport capacity, and addressing the issue of capacity management, delays will not only continue to increase but they will reach the point of gridlock in the foreseeable future. Teamwork and collaboration are needed to develop and implement concrete solutions.
Statement of James L. Casey, Deputy General Counsel, Air Transport Association of America
Good morning, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. My name is Jim Casey. I am the Vice President and Deputy General Counsel of the Air Transport Association of America.(see footnote 1)
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss H.R. 1407. This legislation is very timely because air travelers and shippers continue to suffer from the aviation system's capacity deficiencies. H.R. 1407 represents one element of the overall response needed to correct those deficiencies. We particularly appreciate how promptly the sponsors of this bill formulated and introduced it. We also believe, however, that all concerned must bear in mind that relief for the bulk of delays will only be achieved through substantial infrastructure improvements; imposing artificial constraints on demand will not satisfy the public's air transportation needs. We consequently must concentrate our attention and resources on creating new airport and airways capacity. If we fail to exhibit that discipline, the travelling and shipping public will suffer greatly in the coming years.
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In considering governmental initiatives intended to reduce delays in the aviation system, two overarching considerations are particularly noteworthy.
First, in evaluating any proposed interventions to ameliorate delays we should remember that even by the most liberal interpretation of the Federal Aviation Administration's OPSNET delay reporting system, only 11 percent of all delays last year were attributable to terminal area volume. Even assuming that terminal volume is an accurate surrogate for ''overscheduling''which it is notOPSNET data shows that almost 90 percent of delays are due to other causes, including weather and the resulting metering of aircraft access to the system. Given this great disparity in delay causes, any response that merely focuses on demand management at particular airports will only affect a very small proportion of delays. Furthermore, demand management creates its own set of problems for consumers.
Second, we need to remember that airline traffic has grown at essentially
the pace that the Federal Government estimated a decade ago. In other words, overall U.S. airline operations have generated predictable, long-term demands on aviation infrastructure resources. Today's aviation infrastructure needs thus did not arise overnight. More importantly, future needs are quite predictable.
The accuracy of the government's projections about the airline industry's growth over the last ten years was exceptional. A decade agoin February 1991the Federal Aviation Administration projected that 678.4 million passengers would be carried in fiscal year 2000. When the compilation of year 2000 traffic data is completed, the total number of passengers carried will come very close to that projection.
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That growth occurred during a period in which competitive forces relentlessly forced carriers to become more efficient. The result is that today airline load factorsthe percentage of seats that are filledare higher than they have been since World War II. Preliminary 2000 data indicate that the load factor for U.S. airlines last year exceeded 72 percent. To place this figure in some perspective, the load factor in 1977, which was the year before Congress enacted airline deregulation legislation, was 55.9 percent. In 1990, well after deregulation had occurred, the load factor was 62.4 percent. These data indicate that the industry today is using its resources more efficiently to meet the expanding demands of the public for air transportation services.
That demand has significantly outstripped airlines' capacity increases. In the past ten years(see footnote 2) we have made 25% more seat miles available, on 23% more flights, yet the traveling public has purchased our services at a significantly higher pace33% more.
Unhappily, however, improvements in airport and airways infrastructure have laggedin important respects, lagged badlydespite the all-too-accurate FAA traffic growth predictions. Consequently, we now find ourselves in circumstances where H.R. 1407 can be a realistic piece of an overall effort to ameliorate the shortcomings in the system. This is not something that could have been reasonably said until very recently.
H.R. 1407 thus is a welcome initiative. It demonstrates that Congressional aviation leaders are working to improve the system so that passengers can be better served.
Page 54 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The bill sensibly takes into account a number of considerations. It enables air carriers to attempt to respond voluntarily to delays at specific airports and thereby avoids government-imposed operational restrictions. The bill does so through a DOT-supervised discussion and agreement-approval structure that includes the conferral of antitrust immunity. Such immunity is indispensable to such a program. While providing the vehicle to adjust carrier schedules at specific airports, H.R. 1407 prohibits discussion of rates, fares, charges, in-flight services, and city pairs. These are appropriate prohibitions. Finally, and very importantly, it has an explicit sunset provision. In sum, the bill would advance a significant public interest objective-relieving delays at selected airports at selected times-in a way that would not undermine the basic commitment to relying upon market forces to determine the price and service options for air transportation.
We suggest one technical revision to H.R. 1407. As currently drafted, the legislation would terminate on September 30, 2003. Airlines' fall schedule changes coincide with the change from daylight saving time to standard time. That occurs on the last Sunday in October. Synchronizing any schedule modifications undertaken pursuant to the legislation with that seasonal schedule change would be more efficient and less disruptive to consumers. We therefore suggest that October 26, 2003 be the termination date for H.R. 1407.
The only point on which we very modestly diverge from the bill is with respect to opening the DOT-approved discussions to the general public. Our view is that this process is likely to be more effective the more low key that it is. For that reason, we would suggest that the meetings not be open to the general public but that a transcript be subsequently available for public inspection.
Page 55 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC In assessing the potential effect of H.R. 1407, two points are worth bearing in mind.
First, as I noted at the outset, aircraft scheduling generates at most only a small proportion-one-ninth-of delays. Therefore, although schedule readjustments and reductions that occur because of the legislation should have beneficial effects, they by no means will eliminate delay problems.
Second, there may be some lag in implementing DOT-approved schedule changes arising from enactment of H.R. 1407 due to crew scheduling requirements.
Third, H.R. 1407's fixed termination datewhether it is September 30, 2003 or October 26, 2003 as we suggestis crucial. The sunset date clearly communicates that this legislation is a temporary measure, as it should be. All concerned must realize that this nation has a basic, unswerving commitment to producing the infrastructure necessary to accommodate the demands of the air traveling and shipping public. If that message is not clearly and repeatedly expressed by national leaders such as you, we fear this delay-reduction legislation could be interpreted as accepting the status quo. That would be intolerable.
Although we appreciate very much the Congressional responsiveness that the proposed legislation reflects, we firmly believe that such legislation should only be for the immediate future and is by no means the entireor even the principalanswer to the nation's aviation infrastructure shortcomings. The real payoff for the public will come with substantial increases in airport and airways capacity.
Page 56 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The growth in demand that we can reasonably anticipate for airline services during the coming decade can only be successfully met through substantial capacity increases. For example, the FAA forecasts that passenger enplanements for U.S. commercial air carriers will exceed one-billion in the year 2010. FAA Aerospace Forecasts, Fiscal Year 20012012, table 11, page X13. The forecast for the year 2012 approaches 1.1 billion enplaned passengers. Id. (The FAA anticipates, however, that during the 200012 period commercial aircraft operations will increase at a slower rate than domestic passenger enplanements will increase3.1 percent versus 3.6 percent. Id. at 112.)
We therefore can reasonably expect that in less than a decade we will be carrying one-billion passengers. That number should command our undivided attention. It should disabuse us of the notion that we can content ourselves with palliatives. Airport and airways infrastructure improvements must meet the demandsand expectationsof air travelers and shippers. Consumers today are exasperated by delays; in the future they will be utterly intolerant if the aviation system does not accommodate their travel needs.
Increasingly, delays have become a very fundamental output issue for the nation's airlines. Sitting on the ground on a taxiway or in the penalty box means that commercial aircraft cannot generate what everyone expects them to produce: air transportation services.
One consequence of this situation is that the expectations of passengers all too often are frustrated. This frustration arises not simply because the consumer is late arriving at his or her destination. It also occurs because the consumer's demand for a service that is supposed to be prompt and efficient can be so excruciatingly impeded. This has become more and more common over the last several years.
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The members of the Subcommittee know all-too-well the desultory data about airport capacity:
12 major airports generate approximately half of all delays.
Since 1974, when Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport opened, only four new air carrier airports have opened.
Between 1995 and last fall, only eight new runways opened at the top 100 airports.
We know how to design and build runways. With the recent increase in the maximum amount of passenger facility charges, we certainly have the financial wherewithal to construct new runways. Equally important, we have decades of experienceand demonstrable commitmentto responding appropriately to environmental concerns about constructing new runways. Unfortunately, our runway project approval process does not measure up to our need to introduce new runways quickly. We therefore must focus our attention on accelerating the process by which new runways are approved. This would mean emphasizing moving the various approvals necessary for such a project along together rather than sequentially. It would also mean looking for ways to avoid duplication in the data requests and analyses that each approving authority requires.
The Subcommittee has a deep understanding of the problems associated with developing, acquiring, deploying, and staffing an air traffic control system capable of meeting the public's demand for safe air transportation. The past difficulties that have been experienced should not be allowed to undermine our resolve to pursue diligently necessary ATC capacity improvements. Above all, this means promptly introducing innovations that are in the pipeline.
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We appreciate the Subcommittee's efforts, reflected in this legislation, to foster voluntary schedule adjustments where the need is demonstrated. Such a voluntary approach, conducted in an appropriately overseen framework, is the response that is less likely to do violence to competition in the airline industry. Our concern is that this short-term initiative not be interpreted as a diminution in the commitment to introduce the airport and airways capacity improvements that the public demands today and will increasingly expect in the future.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment about H.R. 1407.
Statement by Congressman Jerry F. Costello
Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling today's hearing on H.R. 1407, the Airline Delay Reduction Act. I would like to welcome today's witnesses.
As was discussed yesterday, our major airports are at or nearing capacity. As the number of passengers traveling by air has increased, so have delays. In 2000, delays increased by 20% over the previous year.
Because delays are not caused by one simple reason, there is not one simple solution. Increased capacity, airspace redesign and a modernized air traffic control system will indeed help, but these clearly will not occur overnight. We need to look for shorter term solutions, which will help alleviate the problem.
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One possible ''fix'' is H.R. 1407. 1 am pleased to be a cosponsor of this legislation, which will grant anti-trust immunity to the airlines so they can meet and discuss their schedules. I hope this will reduce flight delays, by minimizing over-scheduling at our most crowded airports, and I look forward to the testimony of our witnesses, as we discuss this bill.
Opening Statement of Congressman William O. Lipinski
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today. I am proud to be one of the original co-sponsors of H.R. 1407, the Airline Delay Reduction Act. H.R. 1407 would authorize the Secretary of Transportation to grant antitrust immunity to commercial carriers so that they could meet and discuss their schedules in order to reduce delays.
H.R. 1407 was mentioned several times at the Subcommittee hearing yesterday on capacity benchmarks. Again, there is no single solution that will address all the factors that contribute to the delay problem. However, H.R. 1407 does provide a short-term solution that will address one aspect of the delay problemover-scheduling at certain airports at certain times
H.R. 1407 will provide an immediate benefit, especially at airports where more than one carrier competes. It is one thing that Congress can do in the short term to help alleviate the congestion that is threatening to choke our national aviation system. Obviously, there is much more that needs to be in the long-term, such as building new runway capacity, modernizing the air traffic control system, and redesigning the airspace. However, these
Page 60 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCthings take time and something needs to be done immediately to ensure that gridlock does not destroy the reliability and efficiency of our national aviation system. By allowing carriers to meet and discuss their schedules at congested airports with an aim of reducing over-scheduling and delays, H.R. 1407 will help provide immediate relief.
Mr. Chairman,, I unfortunately will only be able to participate in the first hour of today's hearing. However, I do look forward to hearing from our knowledgeable witnesses here today.
Again, thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing today and I yield back the balance of my time.
Prepared Statement of Deborah C. McElroy, President, Regional Airline Association
Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Representative Lipinski, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for providing this opportunity to provide information to you today. In particular, we are pleased to be part of the dialogue as you consider H.R. 1407, because we think this bill deserves careful consideration as a potentially important part of the larger response to aviation congestion and delay.
We are happy to comment today both on the bill before this Subcommittee as well as other proposed responses to delay and gridlock at the nation's busiest airports. Some of these responses seek, as we think they should, to increase capacity and move forward with the important process of airport expansion and airspace redesign. Other responses seek instead to constrain or manage demand, and we welcome this opportunity to discuss the causal relationship between demand management and decreased air service to small and medium sized communities.
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As President of the Regional Airline Association, I represent 50 regional airlines that operate short and medium-haul scheduled airline service linking smaller communities with larger cities and connecting hubs. RAA member airlines carried over 94 percent of the regional airline passengers in the United States last year.
Today, regional carriers serve 442 commercial airports in the lower 48 states, and at 271 of these airports, regional carriers provide the sole source of scheduled air service. Regional airlines are growing at impressive rates; in fact, we're the fastest growing segment of commercial aviation. In the year 2000, regional airlines carried 85 million passengers, which means that approximately 1 out of very 8 domestic passengers traveled on a regional carrier.
FAA and numerous industry analysts have predicted that we're going to keep growing, and within the next five years, passenger enplanements are projected to exceed 117 million. This growth in our industry will mark an improvement in our nation's air transportation system overall, as many communities reap the benefits of increased access to the national air transportation network. Likewise, the growth will be good for our airline members, for their employees, and for the economic viability of small and medium-sized communities across the nation as our industry becomes stronger still.
As a by-product of our growth regional jets (RJs) are comprising more and more of the regional airline fleet. By 2005, we'll have more than 1,600 regional jets in service. While regional jets have performance capabilities similar to or, in some cases, better than their mainline narrow-body counterparts, we will increasingly rely on ATC and airport expansion to accommodate our growing fleet.
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I'll take a moment, while discussing RJ growth, to talk about turboprops. Despite what you hear from some industry analysts, turboprops will remain an integral part of regional airline service for the foreseeable future. Because of higher operating costs and fuel issues, regional jets are inefficient on short-haul routes under 350 miles. This means that turboprops are still the only viable option for communities too small or too close to a large airport to support RJ service. Nonetheless, RJs are becoming a staple of regional air service, and may represent over 50 percent of the regional fleet and carry 70 percent of our passengers by 2005.
IMPACT OF GROWTH
Along with the positive impacts of this growth, we see storm clouds on the horizon. Airport access is our top concern. Without it, our ability to grow will be limited, and regional jet and turboprop service to small communities could be reduced or even eliminated.
Demand for air travel is currently pushing the limits of supply, and we take this problem very seriously because delays are making air travel an increasingly frustrating experience for passengers and for airlines and their employees.
Clearly, airlines have a role to play in alleviating congestion. Already, larger carriers are independently looking at how they can adjust schedulesincluding those of their regional partnersto alleviate congestion and delay. Moreover, the FAA's capacity benchmark study may prove important as a tool for airlines to consider congestion in a context larger than their own operations.
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Similarly, RAA believes that proposals like H.R. 1407, which grants limited antitrust immunity to airlines seeking to address congestion, may provide additional mechanisms for airlines seeking to voluntarily ease congestion. We believe H.R. 1407 deserves careful consideration, and welcome this effort by Congress to effect real improvement in the national aviation system to ensure that the supply of safe, efficient air travel can finally catch up with the present and ever-growing demand. With this in mind, we respectfully request that lawmakers on this panel carefully consider and address any impacts such legislation may have on service to small and medium-sized communities across the nation before sending H.R. 1407 to the floor.
ADDRESSING CAPACITY CONSTRAINTS
While airlines scheduling adjustments will play a role in easing delay, we believe there is no single ''silver-bullet'' solution. This Committee led the industry towards modernization last year, by providing the funding necessary for airports to build new runways and enhance existing ones. This means that the ability for airports to meet increased demand will be enhanced, in some fortunate circumstances, by the construction of additional runways and other physical adjustments to airport runway and taxiway layouts. Despite this additional funding, however, airports are presently unable to construct new runways quickly enough to keep pace with increasing demand.
We understand that undertaking airport expansion can be difficult and often politically contentious. One of the biggest challenges to expansion lies in the slow pace of identifying the environmental safeguards that need to accompany such expansion. Because environmental protections are important, RAA is pleased that many airports around the country are hiring specialists to design environmentally friendly airport improvement projects. This environmental sensitivity creates an environment that allows Congress to expedite the environmental review process without relaxing our national agenda of environmental progress.
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That is why we wholeheartedly support efforts to streamline and facilitate the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures, so that environmental reviews at the state and local and the federal level can be done concurrently, not consecutively. Congress should consider requiring state air quality implementation plans to allow for realistic airport growth. Likewise, the FAA should identify airports where congestion is blocking critical access to the system and help those airports take action to alleviate the problem. These airports should be granted priority status within the scope of the current law so that these critical expansion projects receive prompt and informed attention.
PROTECTING SMALLER COMMUNITY AIR SERVICE
Despite the efforts of this Committee to alleviate congestion and expedite airport expansion, officials at some of the nation's busiest airports have suggested a different, more harmful alternative to airport expansion: managing demand by imposing hefty premiums on aircraft landing during peak travel hours. RAA opposes this approach.
Most proponents of congestion pricing acknowledge its objective is to force airlines to spread out their flights and encourage a return to bigger planes, thereby easing congestion by managing demand. The most immediate problem with this approach is its serious, immediate, and potentially irreparable impact on air travelers in small and medium-sized communities. The smaller aircraft that proponents of a demand-management approach would seek to consign are the very same regional carriers that serve small and medium-sized communities across the nation; communities with little orin the cases of 271 airports served exclusively by regional carriersno other air-travel options.
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Because congestion pricing mechanisms means higher landing fees, an airline would have to pass these charges along to passengers in the form of higher fares in order to remain competitive. The burden of this approach falls squarely on citizens residing in small communities. Airlines serving smaller communities with regional aircraft are far less likely to have the passenger base to absorb higher fees consequent to congestion pricing.
Ultimately, such a pricing mechanism could lead to reduction or elimination of air service if increased fares result in significantly decreased traffic. Rather than embark upon the fool's errand of offering such service, most regional airlines could be forced to operate at off-peak hours or not at all, thereby relegating passengers traveling to and from smaller communities to the least convenient form of air transport. And when passengers have to travel at inconvenient times, they lose the ability to conveniently connect to a major airline as they continue their journey, inviting additional overnight stays to their trip at significant costs.
Proponents of demand management acknowledge that congestion pricing will allow greater access for bigger jets by forcing smaller, regional carriers out of the market or into alternate airports. Airports adopting this approach fail to recognize the role regionals play in the aviation infrastructure: Regional airlines feed the hubs. Relegating us to alternate airports allows a fundamental disconnect between regional airlines and their major partners. Elimination of hub-feeding regional service would have sweeping, negative impacts on the air transportation infrastructure as a whole, as mainline passengers already shouldering congestion fees would likely see further fare increases as the passenger base decreases with regional airline passengers traveling. Disenfranchising small and medium-sized communities from the national transportation system is not an appropriate response to congestion and delay.
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While congestion pricing seems to offer relief, implementation of demand management schemes will do nothing to resolve the underlying, systemic problem of inadequate airport capacity and undermines important provisions contained in the landmark FAA reauthorization bill this Committee fought so hard for last year. If AIR21 was designed to increase access and competition throughout the entire aviation sector, we respectfully submit that demand management will stay its momentum by reducing the incentive for FAA and some airports to undertake vital capacity enhancement projects.
At its root, congestion pricing offers a quick, short-term fix to a long-term, complicated problem. The problem is that capacity is not growing as fast as demand. And in the long term, this problem must be addressed through expansion of the system.
In the 25 years that RAA has been representing regional carriers, we have often represented a dual constituency, advocating on the behalf of not only regional airlines but also their passengers in smaller communities. In this capacity we have met with many of you and we have met with the airport directors of many of these small communities. And the message has been clear: Well-timed and affordable access to airline service is essential to the economic viability of these communities.
We respectfully request that, as this Committee considers the important bill before it today along with other proposed responses to aviation delay, you will continue to protect the rights of passengers from small and medium sized communities, who have a fundamental right to equal access to the air transportation network. Peak demand periods of travel at airports are determined by air travelers who seek to optimize their business day or leisure travel by traveling at times that are most convenient and air travelers demand frequency, convenience, and choice from airlines, whether they live in Pittsburgh or Peoria. It is not fair to constrain either of those service elements due to a coincidence of location.
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Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared statement before the Committee. I look forward to addressing questions that you or any Member may have. Because the viability of our industry demands upon it, the issue of airport expansion is important to us and we look forward to working closely with you as we strive to find solutions.
Hon. DON YOUNG,
|Air Line Pilots Association, International,|
|Washington, DC, April 24, 2001.|
Chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: On behalf of the Air Line Pilots Association, International which represents 59,000 pilots who fly for 46 airlines in the United States and Canada, I wish to express our strong support for H.R. 1407, the Airline Delay Reduction Act.
As we all know, the summers of 1999 and 2000 have proved the forecasts of increased traffic and potential gridlock in the air traffic control system to be quite accurate. By all indications, the summer of 2001 will not be much different. Although many long-term solutions are in the works, I think we would all agree that there are very few effective solutions available to deal with the problem in the short term. H.R. 1407 represents a very profound and meaningful approach to dealing with delays and congestion that currently exist in the system and that the public demands we alleviate now.
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The promise of being able to fly where you want, when you want has created a false level of expectation for the flying public. To satisfy this demand, carriers have created a scheduling system that requires more aircraft to operate at the same time than the system can efficiently handle, even on the best of days. Therefore, whenever uncontrollable events like bad weather occur, the system collapses from its own weight.
Airline pilots are every bit as concerned about delays as you, the members of the Committee, and the flying public are. ALPA believes that a means must be found to allow carriers to negotiate and agree upon mutual schedule reductions for the purpose of reducing air traffic congestion and delays. This would obviously require granting the carriers some form of anti-trust immunity.
H.R. 1407 establishes a framework which would allow carriers, under a grant of limited immunity and under the auspices of the Secretary of Transportation, to meet and discuss among themselves possible cooperative agreements which would lead to reduced flights at a specific airport during a specific time period where scheduled service exceeds the airport's capacity. Thus congestion and delay could be reduced without materially inconveniencing customers.
Mr. Chairman, you and the bi-partisan leadership of the Committee and the Aviation Subcommittee are to be commended for introducing this important measure. I hope H.R. 407 will move through the legislative process in an expedited manner in order to help meet the needs of the system this summer. ALPA stands ready to support you in any way possible.
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|Capt. Duane E. Woerth,|
(Footnote 1 return)
ATA's members are Airborne Express, Alaska Airlines, Aloha Airlines, America West Airlines, American Airlines, American Trans Air, Atlas Air, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, DHL Airways, Emery Worldwide, Evergreen International, Federal Express, Hawaiian Airlines, Midwest Express, Northwest Airlines, Polar Air Cargo, Southwest Airlines, Trans World Airlines, United Airlines, United Parcel Service, and US Airways. ATA's associate members are Aeromexico, Air Canada, KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines, and Mexicana Airlines.
(Footnote 2 return)
For purposes of this discussion, the ten years covered are 19891999. Complete DOT Form 41 data for calendar year 2000 are not yet available.