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NATCA Tells Aviation Summit the Flight Delay Problem Will Only Truly be Solved by Building New Runways - (1/2/2001)

WASHINGTON - The U.S. air traffic control system has been under the microscope this week, drawing critiques from those who want to speed up billions of dollars in improvements, those who want to privatize the system and even those who want to build a new system altogether.

In response, National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John S. Carr told the National Chamber Foundation’s aviation summit today that the delay problem is much like a three-legged stool:

The first leg involves capacity enhancement, such as new technology and air traffic procedures. But it’s important to note this will bring only fractional increases in capacity. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, technology improvements in the works would add three to five operations (takeoffs or landings) per hour at a typical major airport. However, a new runway would allow 30 to 40 more operations per hour.

The second leg is our nation’s aviation infrastructure - airports, runways, taxiways and roadways. As Darryl Jenkins, director of George Washington University’s aviation program, said this week, “Even if we were to have the most modern air traffic control system, we could not increase capacity significantly. So runways are where we should be concentrating our efforts.”

The third leg is the one the users never want to talk about or acknowledge, which is demand management - the prudent use of the air traffic system within the national treasure which is our airspace.

“We are working hard to safely increase capacity,” Carr said. “Our nation must undertake the very difficult task of creating a new public policy on growth in our nation’s aviation infrastructure and we must ensure that current resources are being used to the maximum extent. But the ‘third rail’ of aviation politics still seems to elude us, and that is the discussion over prudent demand management.”

As for privatization, NATCA remains firm in its opposition. Safety must remain the top priority for the air traffic control system and privatization is about securing the interests of commerce first using bottom-line motivation. Even more important in the delay issue, privatization will not bring new equipment on line any faster than is currently being done through the FAA’s modernization efforts.

In addition, Carr said, “Privatization will not pour the 50 miles of new runways this country needs to increase the capacity of our largest and busiest airports and thus reduce delays.”

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