TRANSPORTATION officials ask for ways to reduce airline delays

Wednesday, August 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Transportation Department officials are asking the airlines and their passengers whether people who want to travel at the most popular times to the most crowded airports should pay more to do so.

Agency officials are seeking comments on whether they should charge airlines more to land during peak travel times, whether they should auction off takeoff and landing slots at crowded airports to the highest bidders, and whether raising prices at overcrowded airports would encourage airlines to divert service to nearby, less-used facilities.

To combat flight delays and customer complaints, the department eventually plans to ask for comments on other possible solutions, including taking administrative actions to limit flights at airports.

One message the department will get from the airline industry is a concern that imposing fees during peak travel times could raise fares for passengers, said Diana Cronin, a spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association, which represents the major airlines.

The department and the airlines have already taken several steps that have increased the number of on-time flights.

Airlines have rescheduled some flights at major hubs. Some planes now fly through Canadian or military air space. And the FAA, airline officials and air traffic controllers talk every two hours about how to reroute planes around storms.

There also have been fewer storms this year, which play havoc with airline schedules.

The department reported that 77 percent of flights on major airlines were on time during the first six months of 2001, as compared with 74 percent during the same period last year.

The number of flights arriving at least 15 minutes behind schedule dropped by 13 percent, from 638,727 between January and June 2000 to 557,138 between January and June 2001, and cancellations dropped by 23 percent between the same six-month periods, from 96,727 in 2000 to 74,660 in 2001.

But one in five flights still lands at least 15 minutes behind schedule, and Transportation Department officials want to hear other suggestions on how to reduce delays. They said they planned to meet with groups representing airlines, airports and unions.

``Market-based pricing may be one part of the puzzle toward reducing congestion at some key airports in the near term,'' Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said.

Transportation officials said they were not supporting a particular plan for reducing congestion, but wanted the public to suggest solutions. The deadline for submitting comments is Nov. 19.

While congestion pricing has not been used in the airline industry, other transportation services do charge more for travelers at key times. Rail passengers pay more during rush hours to travel on some subways and commuter railroads. Some states have looked at charging solo drivers a fee to drive in car pool lanes.

Other industries, such as telephone companies and electric utilities, also charge more during peak hours.