In her last official speech as head of the FAA, Administrator Marion Blakey warned airlines that they need to address overscheduling at congested airports -- or the government may do it for them.
In addition to operational and procedural improvements by FAA, the airlines have to do their part, Blakey suggested at yesterday's Aero Club event in Washington. She said airlines "need to take a step back on scheduling practices that are at times out of line with reality...Passengers are growing weary of schedules that aren't worth the electrons they're printed on."
If airlines don't address this voluntarily, there is a good chance Congress will step in, Blakey believes. She said she didn't enjoy having to impose schedule limits at Chicago O'Hare in 2004 but warned "it could come to that on the East Coast as well" if no action is taken. Blakey said voluntary action would be far better than government regulation. She noted that an industry-government working group is developing recommendations for ways to reduce delays at New York area airports.
Air Transport Association President James May said airlines are already voluntarily "de-peaking" their operations at hub airports in an effort to improve schedules. Airlines have told FAA they are more than willing to "sit down and talk about a wide range of options" for the New York area airports, including scheduling.
May also stressed, however, that competition laws severely restrict the ability of airlines to discuss scheduling among themselves. Special Justice Dept. authorization was needed for the Chicago scheduling talks.
Blakey also had final messages for the general aviation community and Congress. GA operators need to "take a step in the right direction...to be part of the solution." She reiterated the administration's message that it's time for GA to face up to the fact that it needs to pay a larger share of aviation system costs.
With only 19 days left until the current FAA authorization expires, Congress needs to move more quickly to pass new funding legislation, Blakey said. She admitted that it is unlikely the reauthorization will be completed before the Sept. 30 expiration date. There is the prospect of short-term extensions, but these "don't fundamentally move us forward."
In a very pointed jab, Blakey said if the modernization program lags because of slow movement on reauthorization, "we'll all know that it wasn't mismanagement by the FAA that allowed it to happen." She also warned that "status quo legislation for a few years is much more risky than taking on the tough financing questions now."