FAA chief says cooperation needed

Thursday, October 5th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Flight delays can be reduced if agency works with airlines, airports, she says

By Terri Langford / The Dallas Morning News

NEW YORK – Airlines and airports must work together with the Federal Aviation Administration to eliminate unnecessary flight delays, the government agency's top administrator said Wednesday.

"I think it's going to be all of us really pulling together," Jane Garvey said after addressing a room full of the nation's airport operators on the final day of the Airports Council International conference.

"This is a strong economy, and a lot of people are traveling. And to some degree our challenges are the results of some terrific successes in this economy."

If anything was gleaned from a busy summer travel season marred by massive flight delays and cancellations, it's that there are no easy answers, she said. "There's no silver bullet."

But changes are afoot for the air traffic control system after an unprecedented set of meetings between airlines and the FAA earlier this year. Together, they identified problem areas, such as the chokehold triangle of traffic in and out of Boston, Chicago and Washington.

"If it fails in any of those places, the system fails," she said. "It's in those areas that we're changing some of the procedures."

Ms. Garvey reassured airports that a re-examination of flight patterns has resulted in a list of 21 procedural changes that the agency believes will help relieve some of the air traffic snares. Eleven of those will be implemented by the end of October and the rest within the year.

One change, for example, involves stacking aircraft in a "ladder" formation when planes approach a runway to make landings more efficient during peak travel times.

The agency is also negotiating to use more military air space during inclement weather, a major contributor to delays this summer.

"We will never eliminate delays," Ms. Garvey said, adding that by working together many of the problems can be reduced. "I think we're on the right track."

Many of the nation's airport directors and staff consider Ms. Garvey, who once worked as director of Boston's Logan International Airport, one of their own. Her reception at the New York conference was generally a warm one.

Still, during a three-hour question-and-answer session, many voiced concerns about the FAA's staffing shortages, which can delay policies, paperwork and grant money.

Others wanted to know what the FAA could do to steer overflow traffic from hub airports such as Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth to smaller, secondary airports. While the FAA can ensure that feeder airports have the proper infrastructure, it's up to the airlines to move their traffic away from hubs, she said.

The toughest question came from an industry reporter about the legalities involved in LaGuardia Airport's recent decision to limit additional flights already approved by Congress.

Included in an airport funding measure passed last spring was an exemption that allows new flights under certain conditions.

When airlines began advertising a flood of new flights out of LaGuardia, officials there said they had concerns about the airport's ability to handle those additional flights.

LaGuardia decided to bar new service during peak periods, beginning Oct. 1.

But questions remain on whether an airport operator has the right to make such decisions.

Nobody wants to see the case end up in court.

"We have taken the tack that these are all reasonable people, all people who want to find the right solution ... in an extraordinarily difficult position ... and try to work it out," Ms. Garvey said.