When the Same Means Worse

Scott McCartney of The Wall Street Journal had an interesting piece in his column -- The Middle Seat -- yesterday.

Flying Was Supposed to Be Better This Summer. It's Not

As far as I’m concerned, the important part was near the bottom.

”Recognizing that problems in New York cascade across the country, the FAA appointed a "czar" to oversee New York operations, forced airlines to reduce flights at peak periods at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, and created new routes for airplanes to ease congested skies.

Despite the caps on peak-hour flights, LaGuardia saw more flights scheduled in June than last year because airlines simply spread flights out more instead of lumping them as heavily in peak hours. The traffic jam hasn't eased. “

This highlights the fallacy of the Bush Administration’s desire to auction of the landing slots in New York. Even with the price of jet fuel causing airlines to pull out of dozens of markets -- they’ll never pull out of New York. No matter what the price. New York and a few other major airports are the real money-makers.

I’ll have to be honest, I thought the price of fuel would ease the congestion somewhat in New York. Assuming Mr. McCartney’s statistics are correct, that hasn’t happened. The delays are close to being the same and that is bad news.

The delays at Chicago on the other hand, increased as expected.

”At Chicago's O'Hare Airport, a major hub for both American and United, only 55% of June flights were on time, compared with 65% last year “

If you’ll remember, the FAA lifted the caps at Chicago recently. Supposedly, the demand wasn’t there to justify the slots. Not only was the FAA wrong, as I’ve explained before, their logic is flawed.

Taking this theme back to LaGuardia (LGA), the capacity at LGA hasn’t changed. Nor is it likely to in the foreseeable future. The typical IFR arrival rate at LGA is 30 arrivals per hour. The best VFR (good weather) arrival rate is 44 arrivals per hour. A quick check of FlightAware.com tells the tale. As you can see from the charts, the arrival demand stays above 30 per hour from 8 AM to 6 PM. It’s the same old story. If the weather is VFR, you have a chance of running a smooth operation. If the weather isn’t, you’ll have delays. How bad the delays gets depends on how bad the weather gets.

If airlines will fly into LGA no matter what the cost, deciding what is an acceptable level of delays becomes a political question. If the country will tolerate 50% delays, leave the number of slots where the are. If not, lower the number of slots. I still believe the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority had the right idea in their testimony.

”The High Density Rule is an IFR rule. Its limits were set to assure efficient operations in IFR conditions. We believe that the limits on National need to remain close to that number in order to avoid the congestion and assure the reliability, particularly in poor weather, that we have come to value so much. One need only look to the airports where the High Density Rule was in place and then lifted, i.e., LaGuardia and O'Hare Airports, for examples of where demand will quickly outstrip capacity and diminish dependability to the point that the government has had to reassert controls. “

You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s two lists for you. One from NATCA and one from Forbes. Find LGA and then find Washington National (not IAD but DCA) on the lists. Notice the difference and ask yourself why. Ask yourself who you would rather have fighting for you -- Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority or the Port Authority Of New York & New Jersey ?

Don Brown
July 9, 2008


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