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Fact Sheet: Taking Administrative Action to Address Air Traffic Delays

November 15, 2007

As The Holiday Season Approaches, President Bush Announces Short- And Long-Term Steps To Address Air Traffic Congestion And Delays, Calls On Congress To Take Action On FAA Modernization Legislation Today, President Bush announced steps the Administration is taking to help relieve air traffic congestion and flight delays during the holiday season. After directing them in September to develop a strategy to reduce aviation congestion, President Bush today met with Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Acting Administrator Bobby Sturgell to receive an update on their progress. This year, travelers in our Nation faced some of the worst flying conditions in U.S. history – with record delays, cancellations, and lost luggage.In February, the President sent Congress legislation to help prevent these problems by modernizing our aviation system, but Congress has failed to act.

The Administration Is Taking The Following Short-Term Steps To Reduce Air-Travel Problems Over The Holidays

  1. The U.S. military is going to make some of its airspace available for use by civilian airliners this holiday season. Through an agreement between the FAA and the Defense Department, the military will open up new "Thanksgiving Express Lanes" in the sky during the heaviest travel days to help reduce delays and congestion. This newly available airspace will be available over water off the East Coast and will help the most congested regions – from Maine to Florida – for nearly five full days surrounding the holiday.
  2. The FAA is implementing measures to head off delays.

    • FAA Acting Administrator Sturgell will impose a holiday moratorium on maintenance projects that are not time-sensitive – so all FAA equipment and personnel can focus on keeping flights on time.

    • The FAA is partnering with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to reduce bottlenecks in the New York metro area, which is the source of most chronic delays. Nearly one-third of the Nation's air traffic passes through the New York region, and three-fourths of the chronic delays around the country can be traced to delays in the New York area. This is a long-term project, but several key items have been completed in time for the Thanksgiving rush. For example, at both Newark and John F. Kennedy Airports, planes can now use certain runways simultaneously without compromising safety.

  3. The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FAA are encouraging airlines to take their own measures to prevent delays. Airlines have already responded by agreeing to make more staff available to expedite check-in and boarding; set aside extra seats and even extra planes to help accommodate passengers affected by cancellations and delays; and bring in additional ticket kiosks, baggage handling gear, and rolling staircases.

New Proposed DOT Regulations Will Further Help Air Travelers Confronted By Delays And Cancellations

The President announced three new proposed DOT regulations to help ensure air travelers are treated fairly. The regulations will not be final for several months, but the plan is for measures to be in effect by the summer travel season in 2008. The proposals seek to:

  1. Double the amount of compensation passengers receive when they are forced off overbooked flights. For example, a passenger forced to wait more than two hours for another flight would receive a minimum of $800, instead of the current $400.
  2. Require airlines to collect and provide DOT with better data on the sources of flight delays.
  3. Evaluate a number of other requirements for the airlines – including mandatory contingency plans to aid stranded passengersand penalties for chronically delayed flights.

The FAA is also going to better inform consumers by providing real-time updates on whether flights at a particular airport are on time or delayed, and by how much. This information will be available at:

To Solve Delay Problems In The Long Term, Congress Must Pass Legislation Modernizing Our Aviation System

In February, the Administration sent Congress a practical, comprehensive plan to modernize our air traffic control system, but Congress has failed to act on this proposal or address growing aviation delays in any meaningful way. The Administration's proposal:

  • Overhauls the FAA's financing structure to provide price incentives for system users to reduce delays and facilitate technological modernization.

  • Contains provisions to specifically target the most congested regions with market-based mechanisms such as congestion pricing and auctions to reduce airport delays and crowded airspace.

Senators Trent Lott (R-MS) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) have addressed some of these same issues in their FAA reform legislation.The President looks forward to working with them as they lead other Members of Congress toward passing modernization legislation that includes the Administration's proposals – as soon as possible.

Because Congress has failed to act, the President directed Transportation Secretary Peters and FAA Acting Administrator Sturgell in September to develop a plan to address air traffic congestion and flight delays. Over the past seven weeks, Federal officials have had regular meetings with airlines, airport representatives, and consumer groups from the New York area to discuss a variety of approaches to reduce air traffic congestion, including operational improvements, scheduling reductions, and use of market-based mechanisms to better match supply and demand for air services.

  • While short-term improvements in flight operation and passenger service treatment can help, they do not cure the underlying problem. In certain parts of the country, the demand for air services exceeds the available supply. As a result, airlines are scheduling more arrivals and departures than airports can possibly handle, and passengers are paying the price in backups and delays.

  • The key to solving this problem is managing the demand for flights at overloaded airports. Market-based mechanisms can encourage airlines to spread out their flights more evenly during the day, make better use of neighboring airports, and move the maximum number of passengers on each flight.

  • Market-based mechanisms like "congestion pricing" are widely accepted and critical to the functioning of many other areas of our economy. Phone and electricity companies balance supply and demand by adjusting their rates during peak usage hours. Airlines themselves smooth out peaks and valleys in demand by varying the prices of their tickets by time of day and week. Applying congestion pricing to airport usage has the potential to make today's broken system more predictable, more reliable, and more convenient for travelers.

George W. Bush, Fact Sheet: Taking Administrative Action to Address Air Traffic Delays Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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