It’s Everybody’s Fault!

The FAA blames the airlines for air traffic gridlock, the airlines blame the FAA and guess what? They’re both right.

The air traffic control system is outdated and can’t handle the amount of traffic in the skies.  Valid point. The airlines are overscheduling at busy airports and using small jets that create more traffic than the air traffic control system can handle. Another valid point.

So it all depends on how you look at it. Too much water for the glass?  Or too small a glass for all that water?

Of course, there’s more to it. It’s not just air traffic control that’s lagging. Many busy airports could use more runways and updated runway configurations.

And it’s not just the airlines’ commuter jets clogging the runways. Corporate jets are also a problem.

What’s the solution? I’d say probably it’s updated air traffic control systems, airport expansions, fewer small jets and lots and lots and lots of money.

I do realize that nobody wants to hear that.


8 thoughts on “It’s Everybody’s Fault!

  1. TRACON Joe

    You’re getting close Jeanne, real close. The amount of airborne traffic isn’t the problem. If it were, you’d be writing a mid-air collision of the week column too.
    The real problems are runways, configurations and terminal gate space. These conditions were exacerbated by an FAA that did nothing except foist false capacity promises upon airlines that were slowly crawling back into black ink.
    The Northeast Airspace Redesign will do a big fat nothing as far as delays are concerned. NextGen will accomplish nothing until separation (and safety) standards are cut to the bone.
    The airlines spent the last 5 years backing an oppressive beaureacrat (Administrator Blakey). Ask them what its like to wake up one day and realize that you bought a lemon.

  2. Clark

    Let me ask you something, how many times are you sitting on the tarmac and see private jets. While they may be out there, it is not nearly enough to hold up anyone from going anywhere.

  3. Rick Lanman

    You are repeating things the facts do not back up.
    Fact – at the 32 busiest airports (also the ones having the most delay) corporate air traffic makes up less than 4% of all the operations reqardles of time of day. Most of these airports have reliever airports associated with them, whose function it is to relieve the “airline airport” of the corporate traffic.
    Fact – a change in fleet mix and compacted schedules are the culprit; hence the FAA’s comment directed at airlines. You need only to watch the gates at any commercial service airport to know airlines are trying to squeeze more aircraft into smaller amounts of time. They’ve discovered we like convience in our travels but haven’t yet learned of the other 4500 commercial service ready airports within the national airport system.
    Fact – the over-crowed airspace is only located around the major hub airports. It is constrained for the same reason given in the second fact above. Airlines need only use common sense and spread out the schedules. Reduce the number of flights operating at the same time, and airspace issues diminish. My suggestion – try operating from more airports with the smaller regional jets. They can do 6500 feet of runway fairly well and there are over 4000 airports in America with runways that long.
    Facts, Ms. Leblanc, will separate you from the other talking heads in your business.

  4. GeorgeO

    I blame the airlines, private jets don’t even use the same airports or runways as commercial airplanes, who cram all their flights into 30 airports that handle 70% of the traffic.

  5. Jeanne Leblanc

    Well, that’s quite a lot of response for one sentence: “Corporate jets are also a problem.”
    I was making a general – and I still think entirely relevant – observation about the nature of this problem. Are there too many planes or not enough ATC resources, runways, etc? Depends how you look at it.
    It didn’t occur to me that anyone would deny that corporate jets are part of the problem. It seems to me self-evident that any jet on any runway is part of the problem – whether it’s 3 percent of the problem at a large airport or more at a smaller one. (And, yes, I’ve seen corporate jets in line with airliners to take off – on the same runway.)
    For the record, though, I don’t buy the airlines’ blaming this all on corporate jets. Commercial commuter jets are much more of a problem. I’ve written about that before.
    So I don’t feel like arguing about airspace and smaller airports and the like because I don’t think the whole corporate jets vs. airlines thing is truly at the heart of the issue. But I have to point out that around New York, corporate jets make up an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the air traffic. Even when those planes come out of general aviation airports, it has some impact on the airspace.
    And while I hate to see the airlines blame corporate jet traffic for all our air transportation problems, I don’t like to see the corporate jet lobby putting this all back on the airlines, either.
    The suggestions that airlines spread out their schedules more and fly to smaller airports are certainly worth talking about, but there would be drawbacks for passengers. None of us are crying out to fly earlier in the morning or very late at night. And spreading air traffic into smaller airports is hardly going to curtail the use of regional jets, which are a large part of the problem.
    I’m not sure I want to provoke the people I (mostly) agree with, but I’m also going to suggest that an RJ carrying 50 people should always have more claim to the runway at a commercial airport than a corporate jet carrying four people should have. It’s a matter of the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. (Yes, I’m a utilitarian.)
    But then I don’t think this problem is going to be solved as long as it’s always entirely the other guy’s fault. That was, also, kind of my point.

  6. Vince

    Nice article. I was curious about your comment that “corporate jets make up an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the air traffic” in New York. Do you have a source for this (other than the Air Transport Association)? Nearly all corporate aircraft use different airports than the airliners, and generally do not hold up airliners at LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark. A corporate aircraft going into White Planes is hardly competative with an RJ into LaGuardia.

  7. Jeanne Leblanc

    Hi Vince,
    Thanks for your comment. I like to have a civil discussion, and I’m always open to changing my mind.
    The 20 to 30 percent figure does indeed come from the Air Transport Association, hardly a disinterested party. But the estimate is not disputed by the National Business Aviation Association, according to the Internation Herald Tribune:
    Still, airspace is one thing and ground congestion is another. I’m basically with you that corporate jets are not the major factor for congestion on the ground at commercial airports.
    I don’t bring up the RJ / corporate jet thing because it happens all that often. (Although I’ve seen it.) I bring it up because a comment suggested that airlines should move their RJs into smaller, less crowded airports that don’t now have scheduled service. I’m not sure that’s reasonable, as long as corporate jets still use larger, commercial airports. Should my plane with 50 passengers have to go to Chicopee while small corporate jets take slots at Bradley? I don’t believe it should.
    I do believe that everybody, including corporate jet owners, need to give a little to solve this. And that’s probably an unpopular view all around.


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