By Rep. Jerry Costello (D-Ill.)
October 03, 2007
It was a long, hot summer for air travelers. If you flew anywhere this year, there was a better than one-in-four chance that you did not get there on time. The first half of 2007 has been the worst for airline delays since the Department of Transportation (DOT) started keeping statistics 13 years ago. Through July, only 72.2 percent of flights were on time, and over six percent of flights arrived more than one hour late. Airline delays – and especially the much-publicized long tarmac delays where passengers are unable to get off of the plane – are causing travelers distress and leading to calls for an airline passengers’ bill of rights.
Beyond bad weather, there are several reasons for increased flight delays. One, traffic numbers are up as more people have returned to flying in the years after 9/11, growing to an estimated 1 billion annual passengers in 2015. Second, as several legacy carriers have emerged from bankruptcy, they are doing so with reduced staff levels, giving them less flexibility to cover shifts when people are sick or have exceeded maximum work hours. Third, our aviation system is in need of modernization, including moving to a satellite-based navigation system from today’s radar-based system and adding more runways at our airports. And finally, the airlines need to pay more attention to realistic flight schedules, particularly at our busiest airports. In many cases, more flights are scheduled at peak times than can possibly be accommodated, leading to delays even during good weather.
The House of Representatives recently passed legislation I co-authored with Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.) that addresses these realities. H.R. 2881, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007, is the product of an in-depth series of hearings as well as meetings with aviation industry stakeholders. The Aviation Subcommittee reviewed the FAA’s financing proposal and the overall state of air travel, and we reached the conclusion that the current financing mechanism of aviation fuel taxes is working well and can handle the transition to the Next Generation Air Transportation System. Our bill contains modest increases in the aviation jet fuel rate and the aviation gas tax to bring in an additional $150 million a year to begin to fund the technological upgrades this transition will require. Enhanced technology will eventually allow more real time information on the position of aircraft, allowing plans to fly closer together and more efficiently use our airspace.
To maintain and improve our airport infrastructure, H.R. 2881 increases the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) cap from $4.50 to $7.00. Airports have the discretion to levy a PFC and to set its amount not to exceed $7.00. According to the FAA, if every airport currently collecting a $4.00 or $4.50 PFC raised its PFC to $7.00, it would generate approximately $1.1 billion in additional revenue for airport development each year. Our bill also provides significant increases in Airport Improvement Plan (AIP) funding for smaller airports, which are particularly reliant on AIP for capital financing. The ability to raise the PFC and the increase in AIP funding will provide the necessary financing to increase capacity at airports to help reduce delays.
It is important to note that the FAA Administrator currently has the authority to address the problem of over-scheduling of flights, and has taken action in the past at individual airports. H.R. 2881 ensures that this authority is used by requiring scheduling meetings between the FAA and the airlines when hourly maximum arrival and departure rates are exceeded. If no schedule reductions are agreed to, the bill requires the FAA to take action.
H.R. 2881 also addresses the problem of lengthy tarmac delays. Our legislation requires airlines and airports to file emergency contingency plans with the FAA detailing how they will make potable water, food, bathroom facilities, good ventilation, medical treatment and options for deplanement available when flights are delayed and stuck on the tarmac. These planes will be publicly available and fines will be levied if the plans are not filed and implemented.
We can reduce flight delays and congestion and continue to have the safest aviation system in the world by investing in modernizing our air transportation infrastructure, not over-scheduling flights and planning ahead for emergencies. H.R. 2881 is a flight plan on how to get there, and taking these steps will help take the stress out of flying for air travelers.
Costello is the chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee.
Source: THE HILL