U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters Announces New Proposals to Reduce Air Travel Delays During Holidays & Summer of 08

HERNDON, VA — 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.

“These new measures will cut delays, protect consumer choice, support New York’s economy, and allow for new flights as we bring new capacity online,” Secretary Peters said.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“These Holiday Express lanes in the sky will give airlines the wiggle room they need to avoid backups, evade weather, and dodge delays,” Secretary Peters said.

In addition, the Secretary said she has formed a new federal advisory task force that will help airlines and airports better coordinate when unexpected weather strands passengers on tarmacs and in airports. She also authorized the FAA to exercise liberal use of overtime to make sure facilities are staffed to handle the surge in traffic, and placed a moratorium on non-essential maintenance through the holidays so controllers can focus on traffic.

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.