By MATTHEW L. WALD
October 23, 2007
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 – The transportation department opened negotiations with the airlines today on reducing traffic at Kennedy International Airport, in an odd combination of cooperation and threat.
A poster in the conference room where the opening session was held warned the participating airlines that it was illegal for them to discuss schedules, markets served or prices in earshot of each other. After a pep talk by the secretary of transportation and the acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, they were hustled off to separate rooms for “shuttle diplomacy” by Transportation Department officials.
The government is hopeful it can get “voluntary” reductions, which would then be codified into a regulation. If the airlines do not “volunteer,” it warns, the government could simply set quotas and assign slots. But the Transportation Secretary, Mary E. Peters, said again, “we have high hopes for market-based incentives,” probably meaning landing fees that vary by the hour of the day, but she said, “we may very well need scheduling reductions to help solve congestion in the near term.”
The Bush administration has come to that point reluctantly. Among other problems, slot controls limit competition and give priority to well-established carriers, not start-ups.
The airlines hate the idea of variable landing fees, and some government officials doubt they will work, because the price difference between landing at peak and off-peak hours would come to a couple of dollars per passenger, or less. At the moment, the Transportation Department has the authority to vary the fees but only so they are “revenue neutral,” so the total amount the airport collects does not change.
Ms. Peters told the airline representatives, “When publishing schedules that offer 61 departing flights between 8 and 9 a.m. – when the airport can handle only 44 departures – is not fair to fliers.” Bobby Sturgell, the acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said, “What we want is for the passenger to have a reasonable expectation that the schedule means something.”
Federal controls on how many planes can use Kennedy ended on Jan. 1, and traffic jumped by 20 percent, according to the F.A.A., to 1,200 flights a day, from 1,000. In August, it was 1,300 flights a day.
According to the F.A.A., one result is that delays per 1,000 landings or take-offs are running at 77.4 so far this year. In contrast, they were 20.9 in 2003, 27.5 in 2004, 39.6 in 2005, 60.4 in 2006. The figures count delays only while a plane is in the air traffic control system . Delays because of mechanical problems or because a plane arrived late from its previous flight do not appear in the figures.
A negotiated settlement at O’Hare Airport in Chicago at the end of 2004 cut delays per 1,000 operations there from 97.1 in 2004 to 52.7 in 2005, but they rose again to 68.5 in 2006. They are running slightly lower this year.
The federal government is stepping in at Kennedy, as it did in O’Hare, not so much because of horrendous delays at one particular airport, officials say, but because planes arriving or leaving Kennedy late are then late for the balance of the day, so the delays ripple through the system.
At O’Hare the system is supposed to be temporary, until another runway is added. At Kennedy, small improvements are possible, but there is no talk of another runway.
One issue in the discussions is how many planes Kennedy can handle without unreasonable delays. Last Friday the F.A.A. said it was 80 or 81 an hour, and today officials said that was the number that were actually processed this summer. But on Monday the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which actually runs the airport, complained that this would “simply cut flights and limit travelers’ options to pre-1969 levels.”
“If this limitation were in place at J.F.K. last year, the airport would have turned away nearly 3.4 million passengers, or 10,000 per day,” the Port Authority said. The calculation apparently assumes, however, that there is no change in the average size of airplanes landing there.
The Port Authority called for technological improvements, In fact, the F.A.A. said it was working on those. One is redesigning airspace by simplifying air routes to increase traffic capacity, although some towns oppose that.
The Port Authority also said there should be more use of Stewart International Airport, which it recently acquired in Newburgh, N.Y.
The airlines have also complained that the F.A.A. target is too strict.
Another problem is that some of the traffic may migrate to Newark, which would add to delays there.
Discussions, which are supposed to continue on Wednesday, were centering on JetBlue and Delta, which each operate about 30 percent of the fights, and American, which operates about 15 percent
Source: NEW YORK TIMES