INSPECTOR general says airlines should reschedule flights

Friday, May 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Airlines should reschedule some flights from peak travel times to avoid another summer of late flights, says the inspector general for the Transportation Department.

Kenneth Mead said Thursday that other efforts to reduce delays, such as improving technology or building new runways, won't come fast enough to avoid a repeat of last summer when hundreds of thousands of flights were late.

The Federal Aviation Administration reported last month that airlines sometimes schedule more flights than there is airport space for on-time landings. The FAA recommended that the airlines review their scheduling practices.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey agreed that rescheduling flights was a short-term solution. However, she said the agency's current efforts to reroute planes and open new airspace would pay dividends this summer as well. Just recently, some 200 to 300 planes flew through Canadian airspace to avoid bad weather in the United States, she said.

``We haven't seen all the benefits yet,'' she said of the new routes and airspace, but she promised: ``We will see some improvements.''

Some airlines already are rescheduling flights away from peak times. Delta has spread out its flights in Atlanta, American has done it in Dallas-Fort Worth and Continental has adjusted its schedule in Newark, N.J. In all three cases, the airline carries a large share of the passengers through the particular airport.

But at airports where no single carrier has the major share of flights, airlines are reluctant to unilaterally change their schedules, said Edward Merlis, senior vice president at the Air Transport Association, the trade group for the major airlines.

Merlis said the industry supports legislation that would waive antitrust laws so airlines could discuss scheduling issues among themselves.

``When you have a large number of competitors, the issue becomes who moves first,'' Merlis said.

Airlines could lose high-paying business travelers if they don't offer frequent flights, said Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. ``They're not going to give up competitive frequency unless everybody else is.''

One way to encourage airlines to shift flights at peak hours would be to require them to tell passengers when buying a ticket that a particular flight is more likely than not to be delayed.

``When you're buying that product, the airline ought to tell you that,'' said Mead, the inspector general.

Merlis said major airlines already give that information if a passenger asks for it. But he objected to requiring the major airlines to automatically release that data when smaller carriers do not have to track their late flights.

``We don't believe it's appropriate to disparage our own product,'' Merlis said.

Airline passengers will be receiving new information about delays and cancellations. Later this month, the FAA plans to provide data to the CNN Airport Network, which will run it as a ticker under its programs. CNN Airport Network is seen at 1,600 gates at 35 airports handling more than 400 million passengers.