A couple of months ago, when delays were at their worst, the President came out and said he was going to fix things. Today, we learned exactly what he’s planning on doing and it’s a pretty sorry effort. Despite what you might expect, I’m not blaming the President for everything. I just blame him for picking the wrong Secretary of Transportation.
It’s the President’s responsibility to find a Secretary of Transportation who can actually addresses the issues going on in the country’s transportation system, and after today’s recommendations, I’m convinced Secretary Peters doesn’t really understand the problem here. That’s why she and her department have earned the coveted Cranky Jackass Award for their efforts.
If you’d like, you can read the Fact Sheet on the proposal or the President’s Speech, but I would say the best read is Secretary Peters’ press conference. The lack of organization is readily apparent in her speech. Enough pre-talk. Let’s dig in.
1) Of all the proposed changes, the one that they think is the most helpful is opening military airspace for commercial flights during the busy Thanksgiving weekend.
Hooray! More airspace! Oh wait, airspace isn’t the problem right now. A friend of mine who has intimate knowledge of the East Coast air traffic problems said it best:
“The greater use of the military deep water airspace is advantageous during the summer months when t-storms block overland routes up and down the coast. When was the last time we had East Coast thunderstorms during Thanksgiving or Christmas?”
Ah yes, good point. See, in the summer, thunderstorms close down airspace (you don’t want to fly through one of those) and that’s when things get sticky. But we rarely see that happen in the winter. In the winter, it’s not airspace problems, because snow storms don’t shut shut down airspace. Snow shuts down airports. So, these new routes aren’t going to do anything substantial.
Oh, and if that’s not enough, these are overwater routes. If they’re more than 50 miles offshore, this would fall under Extended Overwater Operations, and not every airline has the right equipment onboard to allow them to use those routes. Ugh.
Really, the saddest thing about this is the press conference. You’ll need to read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts from Secretary Peters and her VP of Support Operations Nancy Kalinowski.
QUESTION: But you still have that — you still have sort of the choke points if you are at the airport, you still have to land them — I mean, you might be able to get out of New York a little quicker, but on the other end you still have the runway capacity you have, as far as landing the planes.
MS. KALINOWSKI: We believe it’s going to be able to help us get out of New York quicker for the holiday season.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea how many airplanes you’ll be able to move — I mean, is there a number that you can quantify at all?
MS. KALINOWSKI: It’s going to depend on the weather. No.
SECRETARY PETERS: And by the way, let me introduce who Nancy is, so you know who she is. Nancy Kalinowski — and we’ll spell that for you later if you need that — she’s the vice president of support operations, basically the air traffic part of the organization. And I’m sorry, how many more planes, Nancy?
MS. KALINOWSKI: We’re not — we haven’t done those statistics, so we just feel like we know how much traffic we’re going to have for the holiday season and we’re just going to get them out of the New York area quicker, especially —
Holy crap. Talk about confusion. They say this is going to be great, but they have no idea how many planes it will help move. Uh, ok. But I really shouldn’t say “they,” because on Kalinowski says that. Right after she says it, Peters asks here the same question that Kalinowski said she couldn’t answer just two seconds earlier! This is just too much. But there’s more.
QUESTION: A quick follow up to what you just said. You said you were making, effectively, two new airways available. How many exist now?
MS. KALINOWSKI: Well, there are no airways through that airspace now.
QUESTION: Right, right, I know. But what I’m saying is, if you’re thinking of it like a consumer does, how many lanes currently exist, and you’re adding two more?
MS. KALINOWSKI: We’re essentially adding to a route which allows airplanes to move up and down through that airspace.
SECRETARY PETERS: Nancy, absent opening these two new routes, how many routes are available under the normal configuration?
MS. KALINOWSKI: Oh, we have hundreds of routes up and down the East Coat. I mean —
QUESTION: So how much of a percentage increase in capacity is this?
MS. KALINOWSKI: It’s not necessarily a capacity; it’s more of an efficiency. It’s an ability to have an alternative if we have bad weather on the East Coast. I mean, every day planes move up and down the East Coast. They move over land, some of them move slightly off the coast, or they use what we call the amber routes, which are outside of the warning area airspace.
QUESTION: So if the weather was perfectly clear during the Thanksgiving period, this actually wouldn’t really help that much. It would really help only if there was bad weather; it gives you additional routes to reroute planes?
MS. KALINOWSKI: It will especially help during the bad weather. But I think many of the airlines are going to take advantage of these routes, even if we have good weather up and down the East Coast.
ARRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!! I think my head just exploded. What is wrong with you people?!?!? Ok, enough. Let’s say what else they’re going to do.
2) “. . . impose a holiday moratorium on maintenance projects that are not time-sensitive. . . .”
Really? What made you think that non-essential work would be worth doing during the busy season of the year in the first place? But I really want to know what they’re talking about here specifically. I haven’t seen any specifics on what projects are being stopped that will positively impact delays.
3) “The FAA is partnering with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to reduce bottlenecks in the New York metro area . . . .”
These guys have to learn to keep their stories straight here. First, they said that JFK was a mess and they’d fix it, so they made some operational tweaks and promised to make more. But wait. Then they decided that they need to cap flights at an artificially low 80-81 flights per hour at the airport during peak times even though they were trying to expand the airport’s capacity. Now they’re talking about congestion pricing to encourage airlines to use off peak times, but what about all those capacity increases that will make those unnecessary? Back and forth and back and forth.
The priority should absolutely be to increase capacity. If you can’t do it quickly enough, then you should enact congestion pricing or use caps to restrict traffic temporarily, but it certainly doesn’t make sense to do both at the same time. What is the point of the capacity increase if you’re just going to restrict operations?
4) “The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the FAA are encouraging airlines to take their own measures to prevent delays.”
Hah! That’s awesome. It’s exactly what the airlines want to hear. Hey airlines – you guys come up with something and we’ll take credit for it.
5) “Double the amount of compensation passengers receive when they are forced off overbooked flights.”
This really won’t do much to reduce delays, but it will encourage airlines to become more conservative when it comes to overbooking. I’m not really against this idea so much, but I don’t think it’s going to help delays either.
6) “Require airlines to collect and provide DOT with better data on the sources of flight delays.”
They say they want more information about the causes of delays and the the amount of time they sit on the ground, but that information is out there. I can find the gate times on the airline website and I can find the actual wheels-up and wheels-down times at FlightAware. Causes are reported in each DOT monthly report, but I guess they want more details? More importantly . . . what are they going to do with it?
The only action I’ve seen in this area is regarding chronically delayed flights. If a flight is delayed more than 70% of the time, the government wants to consider that deceptive practices and that means big monetary penalties. I like this idea, actually. Delays happen for a variety of reasons, but if you’re delayed more than 70% of the time, it’s either the worst weather month ever (in which case this will be problematic), or the flight isn’t scheduled properly. But that information is out there free for anyone who wants it, so I don’t know what this request will do.
7) “. . .mandatory contingency plans to aid stranded passengers and penalties for chronically delayed flights.”
I get nervous when something sounds like a passenger bill of rights, but this is actually not all bad. They’re letting the airlines decide what goes into the contract, but the DOT is going to require that it be legally binding. Again, this won’t help delays at all, but it could have an impact depending upon what the airlines put in there.
8) “The FAA is also going to better inform consumers by providing real-time updates on whether flights at a particular airport are on time or delayed, and by how much. This information will be available at: www.fly.faa.gov.”
Um, they’ve been doing this for years. I like how they try to act like they’re doing something great here.
9) “To Solve Delay Problems In The Long Term, Congress Must Pass Legislation Modernizing Our Aviation System”
Ziiiiiiiiiing! There’s the whole point of this thing. Let’s bring politics in to the picture. After this headline, the Fact Sheet goes on and on saying how Congress has to act or everyone is screwed. I find it amazing that the President seems to have no qualms about expanding the powers of the presidency in other areas, but when it comes to fixing the problem here, he just punts and blames Congress.
Oh man, this is just sad. And that’s why the DOT and Secretary Peters have earned themselves the Cranky Jackass Award. Congratulations.