FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 11, 2007
With Holiday Travel Season Fast Approaching Schumer Reveals: There is a Quick Way Out of Crippling Flight Delays -- Airlines Have Been Begging FAA to Convene Vital Scheduling Meeting to Even Out Crowded Flight Schedule, But The FAA Failed to Act
With the worst summer air travel season now over, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today unveiled a new plan to dramatically cut delays at John F. Kennedy International Airport and prevent another disastrous summer. Schumer called on the FAA to immediately convene a so-called “scheduling meeting” with representatives with all the major airlines now serving JFK to negotiate a new, more balanced schedule in order to reduce the congestion and delays that have crippled the New York City area’s airspace.
“Growing flight delays aren’t just an annoyance. They threaten to bring the New York City economy to halt and could cut us off as a destination for global travelers,” Schumer said. “Action to break the logjam at our airports is long overdue. My plan will cut through the bureaucracy and provide real relief over the short and long term. The growth at JFK in particular has been phenomenal and it is the kind of growth that will allow NYC to retain its preeminent place as an international business and travel destination.”
Over the long term, Schumer said that the new “Open Skies” agreement between the United States and the European Union will allow scores of previously barred European Carries unfettered access to JFK, only increasing congestion and possibly delays. Schumer also said that thousands of square miles of mostly unused military airspace off the East Coast could be used to reduce growing congestion and call for a joint FAA-Air Force to study opening up portions of the airspace to commercial flights at certain times, particularly in severe weather conditions that delay traffic along the northeast corridor.
Schumer also said that the primary reason for delays at New York City airports, particularly JFK, is gross FAA mismanagement of traffic in the air and on the ground. The FAA’s mismanagement of operations has resulted in diminished use of JFK and LGA. In fact, despite growing demand by carriers for both airports usage, they have actually been able to handle fewer and fewer flights per hour in recent years. With two intersecting runways, LGA can manage a single take off at a time and up to 81 total operations per hour. JFK, with four runways, has design specifications that can handle 100 operations per hour.
Every morning the FAA publishes a “call rate” for the local airport which determines a target number of hourly operations based on weather, turbulence and system delays around the country. Between January and June 2007, the JFK call rate averaged 84 operations an hour and LGA 74, well below what the airports are designed to handle. In reality, the actual average daily operations were only 68 an hour at JFK and 65 an hour at LGA. This means that JFK is only operating at 68% of its maximum capacity on a typical day. Schumer said it’s bad enough that we aren’t using the airport to its capacity, but what’s worse is that we are even falling well short of hitting the daily call rates.
Schumer also warned that congestion and air traffic could skyrocket early next year when the landmark “Open Skies” agreement between the United States and European Union goes in to affect. The agreement would allow all European Carriers unfettered access to American airports. Schumer said that while this increased traffic is vital to the economic future of the airports and the city and should be welcomed, there needs to be a comprehensive and concrete plan in place in order to manage the traffic. Under current conditions, the introduction of scores of European jumbo jets in the New York City airspace would dramatically increase already unbearable congestion.
After one of the worst air travel summers on record, Schumer announced his new three-point plan aimed at reducing delays, overhauling FAA managements of the airports and airspace, both over the short and long term.
· Scheduling Meeting –Schumer called on DOT Secretary Mary Peters to immediately convene a long overdue scheduling meeting of all the airlines currently serving JFK. Under current law, airlines are legally barred from meeting independently to coordinate flight schedules and must instead have the FAA call the meeting. Though the major airlines, particularly JetBlue, have repeatedly requested the meeting, the FAA has ignored the request. Other airlines, like Delta, have taken the initiative to make their own scheduling changes to reduce congestion and delays, but these changes cannot be made in a vacuum. Schumer said that a collective scheduling meeting could provide immediate relief to delays in advance of the holiday travel season by better distributing flights away from peek hours.
Though the President and Secretary Peters signaled last month that they would be in favor of calling the meeting, it was never officially called. Schumer said the meeting is vital to resolving over crowding at peek hours and could show results as early as the holiday travel season.
· Northeast Air Czar – Schumer called on the FAA to create a “Northeast Air Czar”, a new position whose sole focus would be overseeing and coordinating operations at the major air traffic facilities in the New York City area and at the airports along the northern part of the east coast corridor. Air traffic is currently overseen and managed by three separate and distinct entities at the FAA: 1) Towers oversee airborne aircraft and ground movement of aircraft and vehicles. 2) The TRACON’s control air traffic in a 30-50 mile radius from the airport, from the surface to 11,000 feet. 3) The En-Route Centers guide traffic during the high altitude cruise phase of a flight. Right now though, Schumer said, these entities have limited communication with each other, so as planes move between modalities they often get detour signs but absolutely no direction on which way to go. In fact, commands across the various entities of the ATC system must travel from the controllers on the ground all the way up to the highest operating levels of the FAA and back down to the local controllers before any broad changes to the system can be implemented.
Schumer said the “Air Czar” would work for the Northeast because they could investigate and change endemic problem in the northeast, but also cut through bureaucracy in real time. “Air Czars” are a proven tool: two years ago, South Florida, particularly the area around Ft. Lauderdale and Miami were experiencing meteoric delays. A regional air czar was appointed – on a temporary basis – and several airlines saw significant performance improvements. For instance, Delta arrival performance in South Florida improved 44%, and delays of over 90 minutes dropped by 69% over the year.
· Open Up Underutilized Military Airspace – Currently, there is a 15-20 mile band of air space directly off the coast of the eastern seaboard that is restricted almost exclusively for military operations. This space is used for training by military aircraft, as well as naval exercises. While it is critical that our armed services have all the space they need to train, its becoming clear that they aren’t using all of this space all of the time.
For flights flying north-south, this air space could represent a new super-highway that would allow them to avoid congested areas over NYC, Washington, Atlanta and Florida or bypass bad weather when it arises on the east coast.
Schumer called on the FAA and DOT working with DOD to investigate if portions of this airspace could be made available for commercial aviation at certain times by determining the DOD's actual utilization of this space. In addition, Schumer called on the agencies to investigate whether it is feasible to establish north-south and East-West arteries within this airspace that can function as new routes for commercial aviation. Schumer said after initial conversations both the Port Authority and the FAA would be eager to work with the DOD to explore these options.