- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2001

Airline passengers should expect longer delays unless the support system is expanded to keep up with the rapidly growing number of passengers predicted by the Federal Aviation Administration, speakers at an airline-industry meeting said yesterday.

The FAA predicted air travel will grow by one-third in the next decade, increasing to 1.2 billion passengers a year in the United States by 2012. Industry analysts and executives at the FAA's Commercial Aviation Forecast Conference at the Washington Convention Center said airlines lack the airport capacity, air-traffic-control system and personnel to safely carry all the expected passengers.

"There aren't enough airports where people want them," said Kit Darby, president of AIR Inc., a career consulting firm for pilots. "What we're finding is that we're trying to put eight tomatoes in a three-tomato can."

Last year, 733 million passengers flew on U.S. airlines. More than one in four flights were delayed or canceled, according to the Transportation Department.

The FAA has been trying to reduce delays with more sophisticated computers. The agency also is redesigning routes to take advantage of faster climbing and descending abilities of newer airplanes.

Both Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta and FAA Administrator Jane Garvey have said they want to shorten the permit process for new runways to speed up construction and reduce congestion. The lengthy permit process can delay new runways for as much as 10 years.

In addition, airlines are having difficulty finding enough employees willing to go through the rigorous training and certification for skilled jobs, such as pilots and mechanics, despite generous paychecks, Mr. Darby said. Pilots at major airlines can earn up to $12.7 million over a 30-year career, he said.

Officials admit, however, that their recent efforts alone may be inadequate to handle the air-traffic increase projected in the next decade.

Robert Bowles, the FAA's manager of statistics and forecasts, said unless the federal and state governments, the FAA and airports cooperate to expand airport and air-traffic-control capacity, the entire economy could suffer.

"Delays cost money," said Mr. Bowles. "There are costs of not having a system that can meet demands efficiently. Eventually, it will be the passengers who bear the cost of this."

Growth plans at Washington Dulles International Airport and Baltimore-Washington International Airport can manage the increased number of airplane landings and passengers the FAA predicts, airport officials say. No more runways are planned for Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which is constrained within nearby roadways and the Potomac River.

"At Dulles, we have a long-range development plan to be able to handle up to 55 million passengers a year," said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. "Currently, we handle 20 million. Dulles has the potential to greatly increase its capacity."

BWI spokeswoman Betsey Sanpere said the Maryland Aviation Administration's $1.8 billion expansion plan could manage demands from a large increase in passengers.

"BWI has an extensive construction plan that is already under way to provide for that increase," Miss Sanpere said. "We are going to be adding additional concourses and gates, we are widening the roadway in front of the terminal, and we adding 12,000 parking spaces."

Other plans include a people mover and monorail to carry passengers to the terminal. Last year, BWI handled 19.6 million passengers, 12.4 percent more than 1999.

Former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles, who now runs the Coalition for a Global Standard on Airline Noise, said noise and pollution problems need to be addressed before residents near airports will allow expansion.

"Additional flights creating additional noise can cause a constraint on the capacity of the system," Mr. Baliles said.

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