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FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007 - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

FAA REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - April 30, 2008)


Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I wish to speak to an amendment to the pending legislation, H.R. 2881, the FAA Reauthorization bill, which would require the FAA to more effectively address flight delays that are caused by airline overscheduling.

Airlines continually schedule more flights than airports can physically handle. Schedules are made to reduce operating costs and maximize airline profits without regard for airport capacity. Since only a certain number of flights can be accommodated within a specified time period, overscheduling triggers built-in delays which can take the air traffic system hours to recover from. Responsible scheduling of flights within airport capacity limits will go a long way towards alleviating delays.

Many interested parties point out that airport capacity needs to be expanded to match existing schedules. This is true. We do need to ultimately expand airport capacity to accommodate passenger demand, but projects to expand capacity can take years to develop and millions of dollars to construct. In the nearterm, we should ensure that there is some rationality to flight schedules so that passengers can trust that their flight has a reasonable chance of being accommodated.

This amendment, on its own, would not cap or reduce peak hour flights at any airport. It would simply direct the Federal Aviation Administration to intervene in cases where overscheduling is causing significant delays.

Specifically, it would require the FAA Administrator to convene a meeting of airlines to discuss voluntary flight schedule reductions at any airport where flights exceed the maximum hourly departure and arrival rates set by the FAA, provided that such excess flights are likely to have a significant adverse effect on the national or regional airspace system. In other words, if the excess flights were deemed not likely to have an adverse effect, no action would be taken. If an agreement cannot be reached on voluntary flight schedule reductions, then the Administrator, working with the affected airport, would be required to take such action as is necessary to ensure that flight schedule reductions are implemented. This gives the FAA and the local airport the flexibility to decide how best to bring their schedules within capacity. Additionally, the Administrator would be required to submit a report to Congress every 3 months on flight scheduling at the Nation's 35 busiest airports.

This amendment is supported by the Airports Council International-North America as a measure that will force the FAA to more effectively deal with delays. Accordingly, I urge my colleagues to adopt it.

Mr. President, on December 19, 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration, FAA, ordered air traffic controllers at Philadelphia International Airport, PHL, to use new dispersal departure headings, sending aircraft at low altitudes over residential portions of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.

These new flight paths, a component of the FAA's New York/New Jersey/Philadelphia metropolitan area airspace redesign, have been met with enormous fury in local communities, prompting 12 lawsuits against the FAA. They also prompted air traffic controllers at PHL to file an ``Unsatisfactory Condition Report,'' claiming that mandatory use of dispersal headings unnecessarily complicates departure procedures.

The FAA has always touted this project as a congestion relief initiative, and it is vitally important to address airspace congestion in the northeast. However, they are not sending planes over residential areas as a relief option. According to air traffic controllers, these dispersal headings are being used as a primary option from 9-11AM and 2-7PM, resulting in overflights even when there are no other planes waiting to take off at PHL.

At an April 25, 2008, field hearing that I chaired in Philadelphia under the auspices of the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee, FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell confirmed that overflights are occurring when less than 10 planes are waiting to depart at PHL.

This runs counter to prior commitments the FAA had made to only use the headings during moderate to heavy traffic periods at PHL, when 10 or more aircraft were waiting to depart. The FAA has been unwilling to honor its commitment by limiting use of the headings to only those times when 10 or more aircraft are waiting because they claim that doing so would require them to conduct a reevaluation and analysis. I would argue that a reevaluation and analysis are in order if it would provide relief to the communities surrounding PHL, but I am more interested in seeing to it that the FAA honors its commitments.

Since they have not been willing to do so on their own, this amendment would force them to honor their commitment by prohibiting the use of dispersal departure headings at PHL unless 10 or more aircraft are waiting to depart. It will ensure that communities are not frivolously disrupted by overflights but still give air traffic controllers the option of using dispersal headings as a relief option when the airport is most congested.

It is important to note that the FAA is limiting overflights from Newark Airport to times when 10 or more aircraft are waiting, so this is not a policy that is unprecedented or impossible to implement. Accordingly, I urge my colleagues to adopt this amendment.


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