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Hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee - FAA Safety and Modernization and Performance

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Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Subcommittee - FAA Safety and Modernization and Performance

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SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA): Thank you, Madam Chairwoman. Chairman. I join my colleagues, Mr. Sturgell and Scovel, in welcoming you here. You certainly have an enormously important job as air travel comes more frequent, airports become more crowded and safety features -- (inaudible). There's no issue more on the minds of traveling Americans than their safety.

Thank you Mr. Sturgell for scheduling a field hearing in Philadelphia on Friday the 25th. I'd like to take up two issues with you in the brief time I have. One is the scheduling issue and the other is the over flight patterns. I'm advised that airlines are permitted to schedule as they choose in Philadelphia. Vast over scheduling, from what I've been able to observe in terms of delays on departures and delays on arrivals, especially when there is a weather problem.

So it looks to me, in simplistic terms, very much like a restaurant that has 100 seats and books 175 people. Mr. Sturgell, why not have some schedule so that we have a reasonable, realistic likelihood that planes can depart and arrive on time?

MR. STURGELL: Well, Senator, good morning. I think all of us would prefer that the first approach be to address the capacity issues by adopting policies that increase the capacity of the system. And I know Philadelphia --

SEN. SPECTER: No, I agree with increasing. I've only got seven minutes. Why not have a schedule which is accommodating to people being able to leave and arrive on time? I want you to come to the point because there's not much time.

MR. STURGELL: We don't control the airline's scheduling practices.

SEN. SPECTER: You don't control the scheduling but Congress can. Would you recommend that Congress establish a requirement that there be schedules established which are realistic that travelers can rely upon on departure and arrival?

MR. STURGELL: Well, again, I think we ought to be adopting capacities to improve it where we see problems that affect the national system, like we have in New York and the scheduling there --

SEN. SPECTER: Now focus on my question.

MR. STURGELL: Should Congress decide to move in that direction, we would obviously want to work with you on it.

SEN. SPECTER: Okay, let's work on it because it seems to me Congress can do that. And my instinct is Congress ought to do that. But let's move ahead and work on it together.

Before my time expires, and it runs fast, let me move to the question of overflight where you and I have had considerable correspondence. And you confirmed that my understanding was correct that there was a commitment that if there were more than 10 flights they wouldn't fly over Delaware County. We have a very serious concern about overflights over Delaware County. And we're trying to see that they're minimized to the maximum extent possible.

And you have said in your letter to me dated March 20th -- and I would ask consent for these letters to be made a part of the record -- that, quote, "for us to change any of the technical disclosed mitigation strategies, as detailed in our record of decision, would require a reevaluation and analysis of both the operational and environmental impacts."

Now, you letter dated February 7th to me notes, quote, "the mitigation strategy of demand -- (inaudible) -- use of headings based on the number of departures waiting was used at EWR Newark and not in Philadelphia."

Now, what we have here is a situation where you have scheduling as to time from 7 a.m. to 10 and from 2 to 5 but not geared to the number of planes waiting. Now, my question, why shouldn't Philadelphia have the same consideration that Newark does to limit the overflights? And I understand in Newark, you're limiting the overflights over residential areas. Why not have the same consideration for Delaware County, which Newark has, that you don't fly over Delaware County unless there are more than 10 planes waiting?

MR. STURGELL: I know and I'll look forward to talking the issues with you next week at the field hearing.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, let's talk about it now. We have a minute and 40 seconds left.

MR. STURGELL: Those times do also correlate, my recollection, with the peak departure periods for --

SEN. SPECTER: No, that's --

MR. STURGELL: And in both places, we are limiting the numbers of dispersal headings.

SEN. SPECTER: No, that's not necessarily so. Those times do not correspond with having more than 10 planes waiting. That's the standard you have at Newark but not in Philadelphia.

MR. STURGELL: Well, then, you know, I don't have the specifics you are asking with me today. I'd certainly be glad to go back, study it, get it and either meet with you before next week or discuss it next week.

SEN. SPECTER: Okay. You say in your letter dated March 20th, "for us to change any of the technical disclosed mitigation strategies, as detailed in our record of decision, would require a reevaluation and analysis of both the operational and environmental impacts." What's the problem of a reevaluation, Mr. Sturgell? You have a community which is up in arms, really up in arms, about the noise. And they ask me the questions, why does Newark not fly over the neighborhoods unless they have 10 waiting? And you write back and say it would require reevaluation. That's all we do around here is reevaluate things from morning until night and make legislative changes to try to have public policy that accommodates people. Why not a reevaluation?

MR. STURGELL: Senator, we went through a very extensive public process with this airspace redesign project. I think we held over 120 meetings. We did mitigations specifically to reduce noise impact. And in fact, there was a net noise reduction in this project for tens of thousands of people in that region. There are, I believe, a dozen lawsuits at this point in the process. So I think these issues will get played out in litigation.

SEN. SPECTER: Well, I don't rely on having them played out. But I know you've spent a lot of time. It makes me think of the patent bill where we spent a lot of time. We spent more time on the patent bill than you have on this issue, I think, and we're still working on it. But when you say it will take a reevaluation, I want the reevaluation. But we'll have some more time in Philadelphia when we won't have this heavy gavel hanging over the proceedings.

Thank you very much, Senator Murray.

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