FAA Expects Overcrowded Skies Later This Year
As fractional bizjet ownership and regional jets fill the
already crowded American skies, FAA officials are becoming alarmed
at the number of aircraft competing for airspace.
"We're expecting a crunch in late spring or summer," said H.
Keith Hagy, assistant director of the engineering and air safety
department at the Air Line Pilots Association. He was quoted over
the weekend by the New York Times.
"There's going to be a lot more competition for the airspace,"
said David Watrous, the president of an industry advisory group,
the RTCA, formerly known as the Radio Technical Commission for
The FAA is supposed to act as
traffic cop in this situation, but it's quickly becoming challenged
to keep up. Regional jets are entering the market at a rate of 200
per year -- in spite of the post-9/11 slump, war in the Persian
Gulf and SARS. And as the FAA is expected to keep up with the
change in high-altitude traffic patterns, its revenues, based
mainly on ticket taxes, have remained flat.
The situation is becoming worse on the ground, where RJs are
flying from runways traditionally reserved for the heavies.
"There's a finite amount of concrete. If you take one 747 out
and put two RJ's in, it's just one more aircraft in the air traffic
environment and the runway environment," said J. Randolph Babbitt,
a former ALPA president and current aviation consultant. The
problem is only expected to get worse when Eclipse Aviation begins
delivery of its four-place twin-engine jet in 2006. That aircraft
sells for under $1 million, a price point almost guaranteed to
attract business travelers and fractional owners.
Already, the big boys are complaining. Ira Pearl, Delta
Airlines' director of flight operations, recently groused about
delays at Fort Lauderdale (FL) one recent Saturday. He said one of
his company's wide-body jets was left sizzling on the tarmac for 45
minutes as it was number 13 in line behind a gaggle of corporate
"HOV lanes in the sky are something to think about," he said,
referring to preferential lanes given car pools and autos carrying
more than one person.
But NBAA spokesman Peter West says the increase in high-altitude
air traffic is a sign that the economy is improving -- something to
celebrate, not condemn. He says the solution is to increase
capacity, not reduce traffic.