- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2008

President Bush said Tuesday the federal government would open military air lanes nationwide to commercial airline traffic during the Thanksgiving season to reduce passenger delays.

During the holidays last year, the Bush administration opened to commercial flights military air lanes along the East Coast.

“We innovated last year to ease the travel; it worked, and now we’re expanding that innovation this year,” Mr. Bush said during a speech at Transportation Department headquarters.

The additional routes are in the Midwest, the Southwest and the West. The air lanes typically are used for training exercises by military aircraft. Transportation officials have said temporarily opening them for commercial flights would not diminish the nation’s military readiness.

Last year, the military air lanes were open during Thanksgiving and Christmas. They might be opened for Christmas this year, but no decision has been made, a White House spokesman said.

The extra airspace is scheduled to open Nov. 25 through Dec. 1, two days longer than the 2007 Thanksgiving season.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration also plan to deploy more personnel in airports during Thanksgiving to help passengers with delays and cancellations.

Mr. Bush also discussed new rules the Transportation Department plans to implement next month. They would increase the fines against airlines that lose passengers’ baggage from a maximum of $3,000 to as much as $3,300.

Airlines also would pay higher fines when they mistreat consumers, such as through deceptive advertising, hidden fees or excessive delays. The maximum fine for consumer complaints would rise from $25,000 to $27,500.

The Transportation Department plans to publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register on Nov. 24 that would require airlines to develop contingency plans for avoiding delays at major airports.

Airlines would need to develop a unique plan for each airport, depending on its different characteristics.

All of the steps Mr. Bush announced Tuesday are part of a larger scheme to upgrade the quality of the nation’s aviation system, he said.

He signed an executive order Tuesday requiring the FAA, Homeland Security Department and other agencies to cooperate in the system upgrades.

The order sets goals but does not explain the new technologies that would modernize the nation’s aviation.

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