FAA Forecasts One Billion Air Travelers in 2015

WASHINGTON (AP) -- More than 1 billion people a year will be boarding planes in the United States within a decade, nearly double the number now using an aviation system showing signs of being overburdened.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which released the forecast Thursday, faces spending cuts for runways, air traffic control equipment and buildings. But the agency's administrator, Marion Blakey, said she was confident there would be enough money to accommodate the dramatic growth in air traffic.

''We are redesigning airspace, deploying new software that will help increase capacity, and putting new procedures in place,'' Blakey said. ''We will be ready.''

Lawmakers and aviation advocates were not so sure.

Building is not keeping up with the increase in passengers, said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. ''That just spells congestion and delays for passengers.''

Already, flights have been limited at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport because too many planes were trying to take off and land, causing delays throughout the country. The FAA negotiated an agreement with airlines to cut 37 daily flights and limit the number of domestic arrivals to 88 an hour during the day and early evening.

Ruth Marlin, executive vice president of the air traffic controllers union, said many passengers will do a lot of waiting in 2015 if things do not change.

''The FAA is trying to do more and more with less and less and that is putting an incredible strain on the system,'' she said.

Sen. Christopher Bond, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees transportation spending, has expressed disappointment in the Bush administration's budget proposal for 2006. It would cut money for airport construction and runways by $500 million (euro373.7 million) next year, to $3 billion. (euro2.2 billion)

''I am at a loss to understand why this program remains in the sights of the budget gnomes,'' Bond, said at a hearing this week.

Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, pointed out the administration has proposed $77 million (euro57.56 million) in cuts for air traffic control modernization, in addition to $400 million (euro299 million) cut this year.

''All indications are that air traffic will continue to grow,'' said Murray. ''Yet the Bush administration has decided that now is the time to impose dramatic cuts in our investment at improving safety and expanding capacity at our airports.''

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