The federal government has reached an agreement to cap flights at JFK. Here is the press release announcing the agreement. Let’s take a look at what the government is doing:
U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters today announced new measures to reduce airline delays over the holiday season and new actions designed to reduce congestion in the New York area starting next summer. . . . She said the new measures developed at the direction of President Bush this fall include an agreement to cap hourly operations at JFK International Airport, plans for hourly limits at Newark and capacity improvements for the region, and were based on input from a multi-month process that involved airlines, airports and consumer advocates.
The agreement among the major airlines serving JFK caps the number of flights at either 82 or 83 per hour, depending on the time of day, Secretary Peters said. The hourly caps will take effect March 15, 2008 and will be in place for 2008 and 2009. Airlines will be able to shift their flights to times of the day when the airport has unused capacity, allowing 50 more flights per day than were offered last summer – just more reasonably spaced, she said.
So it’s a voluntary agreement. I’ve got some questions: were all the airlines at JFK involved? If not (as I suspect), then who was left out? Will foreign carriers with schedules to keep at foreign hubs be able to hold onto their slots in the crowded evening rush hour? How will new entrants be affected? There aren’t details on this. I suspect that the only airlines who could reshuffle are the ones who have begun to do so: Delta, JetBlue, American, and other U.S. carriers. Delta earlier this year began shifting some of its long-hauls to depart before the evening rush hour. There are a lot of questions to be answered before the agreement can be assessed.
The Secretary also directed the FAA to enter into negotiations to set hourly caps at Newark International Airport, so that flights aren’t simply shifted there, erasing gains made at JFK. Effective today, Secretary Peters also announced new take-off patterns at Newark and Philadelphia International Airport that will allow aircraft to fan out after take off and provide more options for aircraft waiting to depart.
Newark’s delay problem is actually worse than JFK’s–it is home to Continental’s massive domestic/transatlantic hub and also serves many long-haul foreign carriers. Whoever wrote this press release seems to be under the bizarre delusion (often seen in the media) that Newark is some underused, provincial, backwater airport. (The funniest example of this is when reporters suggested that the proposed Ryanair transatlantic airline could use “secondary” airports like Providence, Baltimore, and Newark. Ha.) Newark is actually the same distance from Manhattan as JFK is, and it’s also at capacity. (It ranks 19th worldwide in passenger traffic to JFK’s 15th, and it actually far exceeds JFK in total traffic movements by about 66,000, thanks to the Continental Express fleet of regional jets.)
She said the FAA is working closely with airports and airlines to make similar operational improvements next year, including new satellite-based navigation procedures for the New York and Philadelphia airports that will allow improved bad weather routing, and allowing shorter flights to operate at lower altitudes to open more room for long-haul flights at higher altitudes.
This is not news. Trotting it out as such is window dressing.
The Secretary also authorized the appointment of an aviation “czar” to serve as director of the newly-created New York Integration Office. The czar will coordinate regional airspace issues and all projects and initiatives addressing problems of congestion and delays in New York. And as operational improvements increase capacity at area airports, new slots will be leased to airlines with the revenue being used for airspace and airport improvements in the region.
See the great achievements of our drug, Y2K, intelligence, and war czars.
Secretary Peters said the FAA and Defense Department will open military airspace to commercial flights over the Atlantic seaboard from the evening of Dec. 21 to the morning of the Dec.26, and from evening of Dec. 28 to the morning of Jan. 2. In addition, western military airspace will be opened from Dec. 21 to the morning of Jan. 2 to help accommodate flights in and out of southern California, she said.
Secretary Peters said she will continue talks with airlines and airports to look at ways to utilize broader market-based mechanisms to combat delays not only in the New York region, but in clogged aviation centers elsewhere around the country.
And she urged Congress to act on legislation, provided 10 months ago by the Administration, that would enable FAA to move forward with a next generation air traffic system. “By eliminating this single delay, Congress can help end aviation gridlock, expand aviation capacity, and keep our skies safe,” Secretary Peters said.
Conclusion: The only actual solution mentioned here is the agreement, the details of which are so vague that no solid assessment can be made. I have scanned news reports for more details but cannot seem to find any. (I left a message with a DOT spokesman and will post answers when/if I get them.) The other “solutions” are either ongoing projects, ineffective, or both. And the secretary of transportation does not seem to understand some major issues in air travel in the region–come on, negotiating JFK but putting off Newark?
Without more details, I still lean toward congestion pricing to distribute coveted departure and arrival slots.Photo credit: Flickr user Carl Puentes Photography. Used through a Creative Commons license.