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Lawmakers grill officials on airline delays

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'Stop laying blame'

Advanced bookings drop

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Expressing frustration with flight delays, lawmakers Thursday grilled airline executives and federal transportation experts about what should be done to ease congestion and improve service.

Kenneth Mead, the inspector general for the Department of Transportation, warned there might not be any easy solutions.

"The fact is that we cannot have more runways in time for the summer of 2001 or 2002," he told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation. "Air traffic technology is not going to yield material gains in the short term. Short-term actions need to be taken, and they need to be taken in the scheduling area."

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One in four commercial airline flights was delayed last year, according to Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Kentucky, the subcommittee chairman.

"Air passengers have a right to know if operational practices at the FAA and the commercial airlines are making the problem better or worse," Rogers said in a prepared statement.

'Stop laying blame'

Rogers said there's been a lot of finger pointing and not enough dealing with problems head on.

"The airlines blame the FAA. The FAA blames pilots. Pilots blame the air control system. Somebody blames the weather. I don't think God is a problem in airline delays," he said.

John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said airport infrastructure has simply not kept up with the growing demand for air travel.

"It is time to stop laying blame," he said. "It's probably time to start laying down some concrete. We believe, and most people in industry will tell you, that 25 airports getting one new runway apiece, or 50 miles of runway at the 25 busiest airports, would probably absorb most of the delays that we incur in the system now."

On the Senate side, a committee Thursday was considering a bill establishing a bill of rights for passengers, a move that reflects Congress' unhappiness with the state of airline travel.

Advanced bookings drop

Mead told the committee that advanced bookings for summer travel have dipped at some airlines, a factor that could relieve pressure on the overburdened system during the peak travel months ahead.

Mead said the reduction in advanced bookings could bode well for the weary traveling public, but it could also mean that travelers, fearing labor strikes at four major airlines, are simply taking a "wait-and-see" approach before making reservations.

Good weather and a downturn in the economy could also serve to relieve flight delays, which rose dramatically last year. In 2000, more than one in four flights -- 27.5 percent -- were delayed, canceled or diverted, affecting approximately 163 million passengers.

Mead reiterated his call for short-term and long-term solutions, including improved air traffic control technology, setting benchmarks for the maximum number of flights airports can handle, building more runways and revising airline schedules.



RELATED STORIES:
Airlines promise new steps to improve service
March 15, 2001
Airlines vow to improve consumer service
February 13, 2001
Report faults airlines for communication gap
February 12, 2001
Government report card on airline customer service due Monday
February 12, 2001
Airlines urge spending to reduce flight delays
January 31, 2001
Senate bills aim to improve air travel
January 30, 2001
Report: Flight delays at all-time high in 2000
January 22, 2001

RELATED SITES:
National Air Traffic Controllers Association
DOT Office of Inspector General
Federal Aviation Administration

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