Wednesday, September 09, 2009

So Close. And Yet So Far Away

I almost shouted for joy when I started reading this article in The Dallas Morning News. Finally ! Somebody gets it.

With fewer flights, airlines stay on schedule more often

U.S. airlines recorded their best July for on-time arrivals in six years, a happy byproduct of an unhappy airline industry that has eliminated thousands of flights.

They had the right statistics to make their case.

”The Transportation Department reported that the 19 airlines it tracks had scheduled 580,134 flights in July, down 7.6 percent from the 627,931 scheduled in July 2008. That represents a reduction of more than 1,500 flights a day from a year earlier. ”

Even better, they gave a couple of statistics from which to draw some real conclusions.

”Hawaiian Airlines Inc. led the carriers with 93.6 percent of flights on time. It was followed by Alaska Airlines Inc. at 87.2 percent. ”

Think about the kind of flying these airlines do. You can’t say it’s all in great weather. You can’t say it’s because they avoid the hubs. They do, for the most part, avoid the East Coast hubs.

”Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. finished fourth with an 80.7 percent on-time mark. ”

Southwest avoids the hubs also. They concentrate on point-to-point routes.

And then, just when you think they have the Flick, they print this:

”The on-time performance of the carriers quickly began to improve as the reduction in flights took pressure off the overtaxed air traffic control system.”

It makes you want to tear your hair out. Especially when they have the rest of the picture right in front of their faces.

”Even with the reduction in flights this year, one thing remains unchanged – the New York area continues to have the highest percentage of flights arriving late.

Of the 31 largest U.S. airports, New York LaGuardia ranked last, with 66.3 percent of its flights on time. Newark ranked next to last at 67.5 percent, with New York Kennedy up one rung at 68.1 percent. ”

If the ATC system is the problem, then why can the same ATC system -- using the same technology -- handle so many more airplanes at ATL, ORD and DFW ? (1st, 2nd and 3rd busiest, respectively.) ATL handled almost a million flights last year. LGA didn’t even reach 400,000. (Check the FAA Administrator’s Fact Book.)

It’s just air people. As in Air Traffic Control. If we can vector a million airplanes into the air around ATL we can vector a million into the air around LGA. The difference is that LGA doesn’t have all the places to land that ATL does. It’s the Runways, Stupid.

By the way, let’s not forget that the same, single entity manages those airports with the worst on-time records -- LGA, EWR and JFK. That would be the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. In fairness to my air traffic controller friends in NY/NJ, you might want to take note of the runway configurations at the links (above) for LGA, EWR and JFK. If you know anything about ATC and can count the number of runways that are useable at the same time, you’ll see that those three airport handle about 1.3 million operations a year (again, check the Administrator’s Fact Book) with five runways (let’s say 5 1/2). ATL handles almost a million with five runways too. Except ATL's runways are parallel and can all be used at the same time.

I’ve got an idea ! Sell LGA to the real estate developers and use the money to pay for 5 parallel runways at both JFK and EWR. That would give you about 2 million operations a year, combined. And you know what ? If you didn’t control the scheduling of flights for those 10 runways, you’d still have delays.

Don Brown
September 9, 2009

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