Transportation officials pledge to deal with air traffic delays

House Appropriations Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., Thursday tore into a panel of federal regulators, demanding explanations for what he characterized as "the horrible and worsening problem of airline delays."

Directing witnesses to dispense with delivering their written remarks, Rogers immediately launched into questioning, demanding to know who was responsible for the situation and what could be done about it.

"I don't want finger pointing, I don't want to hear it," Rogers said. Speaking on behalf of the Transportation Department, Inspector General Kenneth Mead said blame could be laid at the feet both of the FAA and the DOT, as well as local communities and a host of other parties.

"All are key players in air traffic congestion and gridlock," Mead said.

Mead outlined a plan that includes establishing a uniform system for tracking delays, cancellations and their causes. He also called for the development of "capacity benchmarks" for the nation's top 30 airports to provide a "common framework" for understanding what maximum arrival and departure rates can be accommodated by an airport in varying weather conditions.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey echoed some of Mead's remarks, saying "all of us at this table are responsible... for action in the short and long term."

In her written testimony, Garvey emphasized that any action the FAA makes with respect to addressing airline capacity and delays "will always be done within our primary mission of increased safety and security for the traveling public." But, she added, "I also recognize the FAA has to do a better job getting modern systems in place so that fewer tradeoffs between safety and efficiency have to be made."

Garvey said improved weather technology, working with traffic controllers to develop procedural changes, and the development of capacity benchmarks for key airports all are needed to provide a more reliable air traffic system.

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