Airline Delays

This summer airline passengers in Texas faced record delays, and Congress is trying to do something about it. Matt Laslo on Capitol Hill reports.

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This year over 760 million people will fly, which is a record. The Federal Aviation Administration expects that number to hit one billion in the next ten years. But airports and airlines are already strained at today's numbers. Robert Redding is a Vice President at American Airlines. He told Senators that delays on the tarmac are out of airline's hands.

"The bottom line is there is not much we can do when an airplane leaves a gate and is on the run way. At that point the planes come under the control of an antiquated air traffic control system."

That is one of the big problems. Earlier this year an airplane was forced to sit on the tarmac in Austin for nine hours. The House recently passed an FAA funding bill that includes a passenger's bill of rights it prevents airlines from leaving passengers on the tarmac for so long. Texas Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison sits on the Senate Aviation subcommittee. She says she wants airlines to address the problem without action from Congress.

"I hope we will make the necessary changes by pushing the airlines to do the right things, it is better than more laws and regulations."

But even if the Senate adopts the passenger bill of rights, there are more pressing issues facing the FAA, like it's out dated computer system. But lawmakers are torn: some want to fund a complete overhaul of the FAA new computers, more runways while others say more employees are needed. New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer says the FAA's problems are mostly administrative.

"They've cut back on everything. They've had non professional management. It's sorta like Katrina junior; you know FEMA junior when Katrina was around and we gotta change it."

But Schumer says he is optimistic because FAA administrator, Marion Blakely recently stepped down. The increase in flights also raises the question of safety. Last year forty nine people died when a Comair flight crashed in Lexington, Kentucky. Democratic Kentucky Congressman Ben Chandler represents that district.

"It brought into prospective what this is all about and first and foremost it is not nearly as much about the delays as it is about safety. People who get on an airplane want to know they will arrive safely."

Senator Hutchison says she trusts the current air traffic control system, but she does want to see more money invested in its infrastructure.

For Houston Public Radio, I'm Matt Laslo on Capitol Hill.

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