- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Dogged by record flight delays, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday said airlines need to shrink their schedules or face government action.

“The airlines need to take a step back on scheduling practices that are at times out of line with reality,” FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said at an industry luncheon.

Ms. Blakey said the agency is particularly concerned about overcrowded skies and airports along the East Coast. “If the airlines don’t address this voluntarily, don’t be surprised when the government steps in,” she said.

Ms. Blakey finishes a five-year stint at the agency tomorrow.

The airline industry’s on-time performance in the first seven months of the year was its worst since comparable data began being collected in 1995, according to government data.

U.S. carriers reported an on-time arrival rate of 69.8 percent in July, the most recent statistics available, down from 73.7 percent a year ago, according to the Department of Transportation.

Mike Boyd, an aviation consultant based in Evergreen, Colo., criticized Ms. Blakey and the FAA for not doing more to upgrade air traffic control systems, which he said are a decade out of date.

“The skies are not crowded; the skies are mismanaged by the FAA,” he said.

In her remarks, Ms. Blakey touted a $1.8 billion contract award to ITT Corp. to build the first portion of a new satellite-based air traffic control system. But that upgrade is already almost seven years behind schedule, Mr. Boyd said.

Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the government has acted in the past to reduce congestion. She noted that the FAA stepped in several years ago in Chicago and held “scheduling meetings” that led to reduced flights during peak hours at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.

Bob Mann, an airline analyst and consultant, said a similar exercise should be done nationwide, though it would be much more complex.

David Castelveterz of the Air Transport Association, an industry group, said that any effort to reduce crowding should involve international airlines as well.

Mr. Castelveter also said the airlines’ schedules are intended to meet the demands of customers.

“The carriers put airplanes where people want to go, and when they want to fly,” he said. “They’re not flying empty airplanes.”

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