'Czar' at JFK touted

Washington --- The Federal Aviation Administration should appoint a "New York airspace czar" to find solutions for the delays that threaten to curtail operations at John F. Kennedy International Airport, the CEO of Delta Air Lines told a congressional panel Thursday.

"This worked in South Florida in 2005, where we saw a 40 percent decrease in delays," Richard Anderson told a House subcommittee on aviation.

One option proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation to reduce congestion at JFK is cutting flights during peak periods by up to 20 percent. That would jeopardize Delta's economic strategy of increased international service, Anderson testified.

The restrictions would "impede the execution of a crucial component of Delta's business plan as we have emerged from bankruptcy, and they would threaten our continuing recovery," Anderson said in his written statement to the subcommittee.

Anderson also complained that it is "not fair" for the DOT to exclude foreign airlines from any cutbacks. "Only U.S. carriers have been asked to reduce their schedules, but the 60 foreign flag carriers operating at JFK have been protected," he said.

"Forcing Delta and other U.S. carriers to shrink our operations at JFK prevents us from competing with foreign carriers."

Delta's international flights depend on traffic that the airline collects at domestic airports and then takes to JFK to connect with overseas flights, he explained. So cutting back on flights is a double whammy.

The area's crowded skies and runways could be cleared by a "New York airspace czar" empowered to coordinate activities of the Air Traffic Organization in the region, Anderson suggested.

"Delta is committed to finding a solution for New York congestion and delays," Anderson said. "However, for these efforts to be successful, the DOT and FAA must not take steps that favor foreign flag carriers."

While expressing a preference for a voluntary, "market-based" solution, the DOT has proposed a cap of about 80 takeoffs and landings per hour at JFK --- down from an average of about 100 an hour now.

"The proposed targets FAA has recently set for JFK operations are too low," Anderson said in his prepared testimony.

Anderson said JFK is designed to handle more frequent flights but that the New York airspace is not being properly managed.

"The congestion and delay concern ... is not simply a problem caused by commercial air carrier schedules at JFK," he told the aviation subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Anderson said Delta has already taken voluntary steps to reduce peak flying at JFK, including spreading flights throughout the day and increasing the average seats per departure by 10 percent.

Another way to reduce congestion at JFK would be to use the "international worldwide scheduling guidelines," Anderson told the subcommittee.

"The system has been refined over the course of 60 years [and] is in use at 232 airports worldwide," he said. "Most importantly, it is consistent with U.S. obligations under our aviation treaties with foreign governments."