Clogged airports: A plan to cut N.Y.C. air traffic

Carriers, regulators meet to find answers

These are all short-term fixes. The long-term solution is what the FAA calls its Next Generation Air Traffic Control - satellite-based technology that will allow more airplanes in the sky. But it will take years to implement. Currently, Congress can't decide how it should be paid for.

At TuesdayĆ¢??s meeting, the airlines plan to talk about reducing their schedules as well as what could happen if voluntary cooperation fails to bring about an easing of the packed skies.

"Congestion pricing has worked exceptionally well in other areas of our economy such as highways, electricity, and telecommunications, and we believe the time has arrived to pursue similar approaches in the aviation sector," Peters told a Senate committee last Thursday.

The airlines are adamantly opposed to the idea of paying more to fly during peak periods, contending that it will only cause them to raise prices and reduce service. Other analysts question whether congestion pricing will work in the New York region.

"Peak pricing doesn't work in a place like LaGuardia because LaGuardia is busy all of the time," says John Hansman, an aviation expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Another solution puts a limit on the number of smaller, regional jets that airlines can schedule during peak flying periods. In 2000, major airlines started using the jets to fly routes. They now make up about 30 percent of the planes used by airlines.

"The thing that makes the most sense is to force the airlines to go to larger airplanes," says Professor Hansman. "There are legitimate issues of underutilization ... because you're using multiple frequencies of smaller airplanes on short routes."

But even with all of these ideas and this cooperation, Calvin Scovel, inspector general for theDepartment of Transportation, gave a warning to the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday.

"Remember that the traveling public will likely face similar air-travel problems in the spring and summer of 2008 and 2009 before they experience any real relief from capacity problems," he said.

So what's a hectic business person to do? Hansman's solution: "Take the train," he says with a laugh. "The real advice: If you have an international connection through Kennedy or Newark, it's getting really risky to take a close domestic connection. Travelers should factor that in," he says. "The system is just going to get less reliable."

(c) Copyright 2007. The Christian Science Monitor

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