October 10, 2007
Citing statistics that Rochester air travelers are faced with worsening delays, Sen. Charles Schumer called Tuesday for improvements to air traffic control systems both here and nationally.
The New York Democrat, giving his argument an unintentional boost, arrived 30 minutes late for his scheduled news conference at Greater Rochester International Airport.
Schumer said airport delays have risen sharply, severely affecting business and leisure travel.
Part of the problem stems from increased air traffic. Low-cost carriers such as JetBlue and AirTran have significantly boosted travel to and from Rochester, with overall operations at the airport growing from 1.18 million passengers in 2002 to 1.4 million in 2006.
Over the same period, departure delays grew from 11 percent to 28 percent of flights while arrival delays rose from 18 percent to 35 percent, according to federal statistics.
Greater Rochester International isn’t to blame, Schumer said, noting that almost all upstate cities are plagued by the same issue.
Schumer said the Federal Aviation Administration has done a poor job of managing congestion at hub cities with busier airports, such as LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports in New York City.
“When you’re delayed, it’s not just for a few minutes anymore,” Schumer said, noting the average wait for flights delayed from JFK to Rochester is now 68 minutes.
“Flight delays are off the chart and out of control,” he said.
Schumer’s plan calls for several moves, including filling the FAA’s currently vacant top position and increasing the number of air traffic controllers.
Rochester has 23 air traffic controllers when it should have 30, the senator said.
Another crucial step in managing air congestion, he said, is the implementation of next-generation technology at airports around the country that uses a satellite-based air traffic control system. Such technology is in use in some European nations, he said.
President Bush last month addressed the growing air travel delay problems and told Transportation Secretary Mary Peters to find a solution by year’s end. Bush also urged Congress to look at ways to modernize the FAA.
David Damelio, director of Greater Rochester International, said he agrees with Schumer’s initiatives. Having more air traffic controllers and addressing issues at major travel hubs will help reduce air congestion, he said.
“Rochester and other cities are suffering because of other airports,” Damelio said.
But Rochester’s woes are minor compared with those of other cities, said Elaine Lucas of Austin, Texas.
While waiting to board a flight after visiting area relatives, Lucas said her family avoids being routed through Chicago because of the long delays there.
“We’ve had pretty good luck with Rochester,” she said.
Source: ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE