Williiam Hamilton: Airline delays: A self-inflicted problem
December 26, 2007
Despite untold thousands of dollars spent by the major airlines to lobby Congress to put the blame for flight delays on other segments of U.S. aviation, such as General Aviation and even their regional-airline partners, USA Today reports: “Flight delays caused by airline glitches are now creating longer passenger slowdowns than congestion in the skies, A USA Today analysis shows: Unions for pilots and flight attendants said that high turnover and low staffing at regional carriers contribute to delay problems…
“‘It’s a direct cause of the poor performance by the airlines,’ said Captain John Prater, president of the Air Line Pilots Association.
“‘Most regional carriers have little say in which flights are delayed or cancelled,’ said Roger Cohen, president of the Regional Airline Association.”
But, authoritative as those statements may be, they do not tell the entire story about why on-time performance eludes so many of the nation’s air carriers.
The major airlines’ bogus claim that “little airplanes” cause their flight delays was destroyed when Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) data showed that corporate jets are less than 4 percent of the traffic at the nation’s ten busiest airports. Moreover, the smaller General Aviation aircraft that range from the Piper Cubs to Beechcraft Bonanzas tend to avoid America’s almost 400 commercial-service airports, opting instead for the over 5,500 non-airline airports that are often closer to where pilots of small aircraft want to go.
So, if neither General Aviation aircraft nor the regional air carriers are to blame for airline delays, who or what is?
The problems of the American airline industry begin in their corporate offices where airline executives enjoy enormous salaries and generous golden parachutes when the stockholders can no longer stomach their ineptitude.
These are the same airline geniuses who invented the spoke-and-hub routing system, which means that most passengers cannot simply go from Point A to Point B, but have to first go to Point C or even Point D before arriving at Grandma’s house for Christmas. But spoke-and-hub does benefit the management of the almost 400 air carrier airports because, each time a passenger goes through a commercial-service airport, the passenger must pay a Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) (usually $4.50) for using the airport facilities.
While $4.50 may seem expensive for using the restroom, commercial-service airports like Denver International Airport are expensive to maintain. But they do require and deserve financial support. Then there is the up to $10 per-round-trip Security Fee ” blame the terrorists, not the airlines for those. But add the PFCs and Security Fees to the cash one spends on the food and drink the airlines no longer provide and those “deregulated” airline fares are not as inexpensive as once thought.
The most egregious major-airline practice is to over-schedule the number of flights going into and out of the nation’s busiest airport hubs during the morning and evening rush hours. No matter how many air traffic controllers are hired, no matter how many terminal-area radars are added, the major airlines simply keep piling on more rush-hour flights until system capacity is over taxed. More runways would help the major airline hubs; however, airport neighbors fiercely oppose the creation of more runways.
And while one may not need to fly into New York or Chicago or Denver or Atlanta to see Grandma, the airline system is like the ocean. Delays or equipment cancellations at the major airline hubs eventually lap their way sideways, like ocean waves, to the smaller commercial-service airports so you either dont get to Grandmas house at all or arrive so late the turkey is already in the fridge.
The blame game isn’t working. So, let’s hope the major airlines will wake up and fix the problems they have created.
Grand County resident William Hamilton, an instrument-rated pilot for 38 years, is a syndicated columnist, a featured commentator for USA Today, and a regional representative for the world’s largest pilot association.
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