Record airline load factors and the growing number of flights are testimony to the strength of consumer demand for competitively priced air transportation. Airlines are in the business of responding to these market signals to meet the public's expectations for services. In short, just as anticipated, airline deregulation has produced a variety of airline services and vigorous price competition.
Unfortunately, there are some who would prefer to respond to the challenges of this marketplace success by scaling back consumer benefits. They would impose fees and regulatory constraints that simply mask the government's failure to provide the essential air traffic control (ATC) services we all pay for. Adding $50 to a passenger ticket through congestion pricing or reducing service to small communities that rely on regional jet service, they say, is the only solution to market demands. That is the wrong approach.
It is indisputable that demand at the New York area airports is exceptionally strong, and that customer demand is contributing to air traffic delays. The easy solution is, as noted, to slap a congestion price on passengers. The problem with this approach is that it doesn't fix the problem; it only makes it more expensive to fly. Our response? Fix the problem, don't hide it.
*First, ensure that operations at the New York airports meet the hourly rates the Federal Aviation Administration says they can handle safely. This well-documented reduction in ATC operational productivity must be corrected.
*Second, accelerate the airspace redesign project for the New York-Philadelphia region, which promises to reduce delays by as much as 20%.
*Third, give commercial flights a higher priority than other system users to protect schedule integrity; the passengers and airlines that fund more than 90% of the costs of air traffic services deserve nothing less.
*Fourth, accelerate the rollout of existing technologies that provide meaningful capacity and operational improvements -- including enhancements known as Area Navigation and Required Navigational Performance -- and improve surveillance systems to better manage airplanes on the ground and enhance safety.
These measures are just a start on what can be done if we reject the urge to hide the problem and get on with the necessary solutions.
Finally, in the long run, we must accelerate the transformation of the ATC system to a modern, satellite-based system with all of the benefits a net-centric system provides: more airways, more capacity and enhanced safety. The FAA target date of 2015 must be brought forward. Why not 2010?
Give the FAA the tools it needs to provide the essential ATC services this country demands instead of hiding the problem.
James C. May is president and CEO of the Air Transport Association, the trade group for major U.S. passenger and cargo airlines.