FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt fired some shots at the airlines during a high-profile speech in New York today.
After highlighting the advances being made in NextGen, Babbitt made a point of saying that it won’t matter much “if we don’t also commit to more sensible [airline] scheduling practices.”
This is really the first time Babbitt has taken on the airlines regarding this issue, but it is certainly a valid point. One of his predecessors, Marion Blakey, raised the ire of the airline industry by making similar statements toward the end of her tenure.
I’ve been a bit of a broken record on this score, as I firmly believe the expected benefits of NextGen are being greatly overstated absent some kind of demand management. I mean, if you added 10% more capacity overnight at airport X, and that 10% is immediately filled by new flights, then where is the congestion benefit?
Babbitt says FAA “won’t just sit back and be the scapegoat in the future.” About time. But does this mean FAA is going to take airlines to task when they repeatedly blame the “antiquated ATC system” for all delays? I’ll believe it when I see it. So far the agency has not shown a lot of appetite for refuting this argument.
Anyway, here are the pertinent quotes from Babbitt’s speech:
We shouldn’t invest time, energy and dollars for efficiency gains and delay reductions so that a schedule can be packed beyond what the system can handle; that amounts to two steps forward and three steps back. If you have 20 flights scheduled to take off in a single five-minute window, you’ve just created a bow wave of delays that’s likely going to last all morning, maybe all day. That’s not in the traveling public’s best interest.
When the airport can handle 120 in an hour, and you try to have 80 go in the first 20 minutes, it’s just not going to work. We will have to work better together and the FAA won’t just sit back and be the scapegoat in the future. We truly need additional transparency to the facts behind many of our delays. Too often I hear a Captain announce; “Well, we’re gonna be delayed another 20 minutes until we get a departure slot from the FAA,” when in reality, they’re waiting because their carrier scheduled 26 departures during a five minute window. De-peaking is the answer here. Check the departure boards at our busiest airports, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. This is a cooperative effort, and all the parties involved need to take responsibility and find a sensible path forward.