Written on 6:28 PM by yahoo
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Despite President Bush's personal intervention, American travelers stuck in one of the air traffic system's chokepoints remained skeptical the government would be able to avert serious flight delays over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Bush announced a series of technical measures Thursday to reduce air traffic congestion and long delays that have left passengers stranded and turned holiday travel into "a season of dread for too many Americans." Among the most innovative: Opening two lanes of restricted military airspace off the East Coast to commercial airlines from 4 p.m. ET Wednesday through the following Sunday.
Many of Bush's moves were aimed at New York airports, whose congestion plays a role in 75 percent of the flight delays nationwide.
In a year of record delays, Bush declared that "business as usual is not good enough for American travelers." Opening two lanes of military airspace offshore will supplement the dozen air routes regularly used from Florida to New England and create "a Thanksgiving express lane" for commercial airliners during the busiest days of Thanksgiving travel.
"It's probably a good idea, but are the airlines going to be able to handle it?" asked Dawn East, 52, as she waited at New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport for her flight to Miami, Florida, which had been delayed for two hours. "It's not a problem of the lanes up there. It's an industry problem. There's no efficiency."
For the second time since September when he ordered the Transportation Department and the Federal Aviation Administration to come up with solutions, Bush personally intervened in the intractable problem of air congestion that previous presidents avoided and many aviation experts believe has only long-term solutions.
Crowded airports, stranded passengers and delayed flights "carry some real costs for the country," Bush said, "not just in the inconvenience they cause, but in the business they obstruct and family gatherings they cause people to miss."
Bush's moves were applauded by trade groups representing the airlines and airports but derided as ineffective by air traffic controllers who said their ranks have been thinned too much to handle the holiday crush efficiently. The pilots union called some long-term steps too drastic.
Democrats in Congress characterized Bush's actions as "better late than never," in the words of Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Illinois, House aviation subcommittee chairman, and not nearly enough in the view of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York.
The chief benefit of using the military air routes would be to "get people out of the New York area quicker, especially if we have [bad] weather up and down the East Coast," said Nancy Kalinowski, systems operations vice president at the Federal Aviation Administration.
Through September, more than 24 percent of U.S. flights arrived late, the worst on-time performance since comparable data began being collected in 1995. And in these Transportation Department figures, on-time means less than 15 minutes late.
Many of the new moves also will be in effect for Christmas but even some of the short-term steps Bush announced -- like doubling the penalties airlines have to pay passengers bumped from overbooked flights -- won't take place until next summer at the earliest.
Bush acknowledged these short-term steps "do not cure the underlying problem: In certain parts of our country, the demand for air service exceeds the available supply. As a result, airlines are scheduling more arrivals and departures than airports can possibly handle."
He called on Congress to pass his FAA reauthorization bill, which would finance a multibillion-dollar modernizing of air traffic control by replacing radars with global positioning satellites. The House has passed a reauthorization but Bush objects to some provisions; the Senate has yet to act.
Among the short-term steps:
--The FAA is imposing a holiday moratorium on nonessential maintenance projects, so all its personnel and equipment will be focused on keeping flights on time.
--New runway use patterns have been instituted at New York's Kennedy International that allow four to six more planes to arrive each hour, and Newark is about to add new takeoff routes.
--An FAA Web site, www.Fly.FAA.Gov, will provide up-to-date information about airport delays and passengers can sign up to have delay notices sent to their mobile phones.The Transportation Department proposed new rules to double the bump fee that airlines must pay to travelers with tickets but no seat from $200 for those delayed less than two hours and $400 for those who wait more than two hours to $400 and $800. It also proposed that airlines devise legally enforceable plans to provide food, water, lavatories and medical care to passengers stranded in planes on airport taxiways.
courtesy of cnn
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