US Department of Transportation (DoT) inspector general Kenneth Mead has reported mixed results in efforts by US airlines to boost their customer service in the face of widespread flight delays.

Saying that the voluntary programme is too little, too late, a number of US lawmakers have introduced legislation that would mandate broader consumer protection measures for air travellers.

Although noting that US carriers are making progress in meeting commitments to customers, Mead says: "The aviation system is not working well. Aggressive progress will be required by the airlines, airports and US Federal Aviation Administration to restore consumer confidence".

Last year, major US airlines adopted voluntary measures - the "Customer First" campaign - designed to head off new consumer protection laws. This resulted from several months of negotiations among the airlines, Congressional aides and federal transportation officials. Various US legislators have introduced resolutions that would mandate change. One would give the DoT more authority to oversee mergers, and require airlines to give customers timely explanations for flight delays.

Meanwhile, the US Air Transport Association (ATA) has called on the Bush Administration to reduce dramatically air traffic delays through the accelerated deployment of a satellite-based air navigation system, hiring additional controllers and computer upgrades.

Delays worsened in 1999 and 2000 despite the fielding of new air traffic control (ATC) equipment and implementation of procedures to keep flights on schedule.

The FAA has a multi-billion dollar ATC modernisation programme under way, but ATA says $2 billion should be spent over five years instead of 10 years to accelerate fielding of global positioning system-based ATC, including both the wide area and local area augmentation systems.

Source: Flight International