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Thu, Aug 30, 2007

AOPA Says Airlines Remain In 'Concrete' Denial

Attempts By Carriers To Bend Time, Space Come Up Short

The airlines just don't get it... or they chose not to, reports the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

The New York Times this Sunday quoted Air Transport Association spokesman David Castelveter saying, "You can have all the concrete you want -- it's when you're up in the air that you have a space problem."

"That's a surprising pronouncement coming from an airline industry insider," responds AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Congress, the FAA, and the entire aviation community have long recognized that runway capacity is the major factor limiting the ability to deal with the exploding numbers of airline flights at hub airports."

All it takes is simple logic to understand the issue, according to AOPA. There's a lot more room for aircraft in the three dimensions of airspace, than the two dimensions of a limited number of runways. Pick any spot in the airspace, and you can have an aircraft at 1,000 feet, another at 2,000 feet, a third at 3,000 feet, etc. Pick any spot on the runway, and you can have exactly one aircraft there under the laws of physics... nevermind FAA regulations, Boyer said.

If it's not about the runways, Boyer counters, why did the number of delayed flights at Atlanta drop three percent after the addition of a new runway in 2006? And if it's not the runways, then why is more runway capacity the critical element of the FAA's Operational Evolution Partnership to meet current and future air traffic demands?

"Since fiscal year 2000, FAA has provided about $1.7 billion in AIP (Airport Improvement Program) funding to increase capacity and decrease delays at the most congested airports in the country. These 13 new runway projects have provided these airports with the potential to accommodate 1.6 million more annual operations," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in testimony before Congress in May.

And if it's about the airspace, why didn't airline delays decrease noticeably in 2005 when the FAA doubled the amount of airspace available to airliners? That was the first year of RVSM (reduced vertical separation minima) in domestic US airspace, AOPA notes.

In the simplest terms, however, all it takes is one number to show airline passengers where the true problem lies: 59.

That's the number of aircraft scheduled to depart from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on June 1 in a 14-minute period, beginning at 0800 local. Again -- that's not for the entire hour, but for a mere 14 minutes.

The only way that can realistically happen, AOPA says, is in a universe where the amount of concrete doesn't matter. But who needs that pesky reality, when you're running an airline?

FMI: www.aopa.org, www.airlines.org

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