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New Steps To Reduce Air Traffic Congestion

WASHINGTON (AP) - Ahead of the holiday travel crunch, President Bush has settled on steps intended to reduce air traffic congestion and long delays that have left passengers stranded.

The White House said President Bush would announce a series of decisions, including action to aid travelers whose flights are canceled or delayed. The Transportation Department has been drafting regulations to increase the bump fees for travelers who buy tickets but wind up without a seat. The department has been considering increasing the fee from $200 to more than $600.

Bush was to announce the action Thursday during a meeting at the White House with Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Bobby Sturgell, acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

The airline industry's on-time performance this year has been its worst since comparable data began being collected in 1995. The Transportation Department said last month that 25.2 percent of domestic flights arrived late between January and August.

Domestic carriers are expected to fly roughly 27 million passengers worldwide over 12 days beginning November 16, with planes about 90 percent full, according to the Air Transport Association.

President Bush, on September 27, announced that his administration was looking at ways to reduce air traffic congestion. The president urged Congress to look at legislation to modernize the FAA, and instructed Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to report back to him quickly about ways to ensure that air passengers are treated appropriately and progress is made to ease congestion.

Mary Peters said at the time she was asking airlines to meet to formulate a plan to improve scheduling at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the nation's busiest airports. If no solution is found, she said, the department is prepared to issue a scheduling reduction order.

Congestion is not the only problem for air travelers.

A report made public Wednesday said government investigators smuggled liquid explosives and detonators through airport security, exposing a dangerous hole in the nation's ability to keep these forbidden items off of airplanes.

The investigators learned about the components to make an improvised explosive device and an improvised incendiary device on the Internet and purchased the parts at local stores, said the report by the Government Accountability Office. Investigators were able to purchase the components for the two devices for under $150, and they studied the published guidelines for screening to determine how to conceal the prohibited items as they went through checkpoint security.

At the end of the testing, investigators concluded that terrorists could use publicly available information and a few cheaply available supplies to damage an airplane and threaten passenger safety.

The covert tests were conducted at Transportation Security Administration checkpoints at 19 airports in March, May and June of this year. The GAO did not identify the airports.
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