GAO Testifies That The FAA’s Congestion Management Program Will Have Limited Effect on Reducing Delays

During July, the Government Accounting Office issued several reports regarding various aviation topics.  One of the topics not covered was the East Coast Airspace Redesign, which was supposed to be issued at the end of July, but now probably will not be issued until the end of August.

Of particular interest was the issuance, on July 15, 2008, of the testimony of Ms. Susan Fleming, the GAO Director of Physical Infrastructure, National Airspace System: DOT and FAA Actions Will Likely Have a Limited Effect on Reducing Delays during Summer 2008 Travel Season given to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security.  Over the past decade, there has been a steady increase in flight delays and cancellations, such that a delay at O’Hare or Hartsfield would have a ripple effect across the National Airspace System. The DOT estimated that more than one in four flights either arrived late or was canceled in 2007, making it one of the worst years for delays in the last decade. As a result of the East Coast Airspace Redesign, the delays and cancellations evident at the three New York metropolitan commercial passenger airports–Newark Liberty International (Newark), John F. Kennedy International (JFK), and LaGuardia caused the FAA to propose and promulgate several actions in attempt to reduce congestion and delays.

Ms. Fleming’s testimony addresses (1) the trends in the extent and principal sources of flight delays and cancellations over the last 10 years, (2) the status of federal government actions to reduce flight delays and cancellations, and (3) the extent to which these actions may reduce delays and cancellations for the summer 2008 travel season. This statement is based on an analysis of DOT data on airline on-time performance, a review of relevant documents and reports, and interviews with officials from DOT, FAA, airport operators, and airlines, as well as aviation industry experts and associations. DOT and FAA provided technical comments which were incorporated as appropriate.

Of particular interest is the fact that Ms. Fleming’s testimony states that “to reduce delays and congestion beginning in summer 2008, DOT and FAA are implementing several actions that for the purposes of this review GAO is characterizing as capacity-enhancing initiatives and demand management policies.” Some of these actions are already in effect, such as 11 of the 17 short-term initiatives designed to improve capacity at the airport or system level and the hourly schedule caps on operations at the New York area airports.

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