Outgoing FAA administrator Marion Blakey blames airline scheduling practices for mounting delays

After struggling through the worst summer in recent history for delays, cancellations and passenger complaints, US carriers now face a stern warning from the government to clean up their act.

FAA administrator Marion Blakey, in her last public appearance before leaving office in September, told carriers their unrealistic scheduling and their over-scheduling is a major cause of the congestion and delays. The airlines "need to take a step back in their scheduling practices that are at times out of line with reality". Many airline schedules, she says, "aren't worth the electrons they are printed on".

There were about one million flight delays in the first half of the year and in July on-time arrivals fell below 70% and passenger complaints doubled compared to July 2006. In the three months that ended 31 August, domestic flight cancellations totalled nearly 53,000, up from 16,000 for the same three months last year.

Noting this dismal performance, Blakey says "if airlines don't address this voluntarily, don't be surprised when the government steps in". Blakey singled out New York city airports, particularly LaGuardia and JFK, the nation's most delayed, where, she says, "at some times of the day, there are schedules that can't physically be operated except under optimal circumstances and we don't have many optimal days". She notes that the FAA could impose caps on flights there, as it did at Chicago O'Hare in 2004. Although Blakey's five-year term ended in mid-September, officials at the FAA and its parent, the DoT, stood by her remarks. The DoT says it is investigating airline flight-scheduling.

But Air Transport Association chief executive Jim May says antitrust laws prohibit any airline discussion of scheduling or capacity, and Northwest Airlines chief executive Doug Steenland warned that any cutback in the number of flights or any form of rationing or quotas would inevitably increase fares. The airlines have used the increasing public discontent with airline service to bolster their argument for a new method to fund the FAA by shifting the air traffic control cost burden to business aviation.

A few days after Blakey spoke, a large demonstration near the Capitol building in Washington called attention to horror stories such as incidents in which passengers were stranded in aircraft sitting on the tarmac for as long as 10 hours. The protestors support "passenger rights" legislation that is now being considered by both houses in Congress.

Source: Airline Business