Peak-period pricing no fix for congestion, say alphabets

 - May 1, 2008, 12:59 PM

The FAA’s proposal to reduce airline delays by imposing peak-period pricing to reduce congestion at busy airports is a “bad idea with no positive consequences and the limitless possibility of unintended negative consequences,” according to NBAA. The National Air Transportation Association commented that “the proposed amendment is a short-term fix to a long-term problem,” and that the FAA should focus on “runway expansions and airport improvements to aid traffic flow at the most congested airports.” Phil Boyer, president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said, “The agency’s proposal does nothing to improve the national air transportation system and could hurt general aviation’s access to airports.”

But the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) and the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) expressed general support of the federal efforts to give airports more flexibility in setting rates and charges.

ACI-NA said that by restructuring landing fees to reflect the full cost imposed by aircraft operations, airport proprietors can provide economic incentives for airlines to use congested airfields more efficiently, use larger aircraft and shift service to less congested secondary airports within the region.

AAAE called the DOT’s January 17 proposal “a modest useful tool for airports,” but speculated that the policy would likely fall short in terms of affecting airline scheduling decisions.

The FAA has two definitions of “congested airport.” One is defined in a National Airspace System capacity needs report (Fact 2 report) conducted for the agency by Mitre, and the other is by regulatory definition, as follows: “The term ‘congested airport’ means an airport that accounted for at least one percent of all delayed aircraft operations in the United States in the most recent year for which such data is available and an airport listed in table 1 of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Capacity Benchmark Report 2001.”

The Fact 2 report makes two points that add complexity to the congestion question. According to the report, “An airport’s runways are not necessarily the limiting capacity factor. Often, taxiways and terminal gates can limit the annual number of operations more than runway capacity by itself.” It continues, “Airspace limitations also impact capacity. The ability of the airspace around many of the airports to accommodate more arrivals and departures may be limited, especially where there are several major airports in the same area (Southern California, Northern California, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Southern Florida). En route airspace congestion might also impose departure delays. In other cases, operational flexibility might be affected by nearby military airspace or environmentally sensitive areas.”

The Fact 2 report lists four airports needing immediate capacity improvement: New York Kennedy, La Guardia and Newark, and Chicago O’Hare. If planned airport infrastructure (not airspace) improvements do not take place by 2015, then 18 airports and seven metropolitan areas will need additional capacity, according to the report.

The key element of the FAA’s congestion pricing proposal is a rule change to allow a two-part landing fee based on operations and aircraft weight. NBAA and AOPA believe that allowing airports to impose such a landing fee would make it easier for airports to limit smaller aircraft traffic and create incentives for airlines to use larger aircraft.

The problem with this approach, according to NBAA, is that it makes a discriminatory assumption, “that denser, longer-haul markets merit priority. It appears through this proposed policy change that the Department has determined that one type of passenger or one mode of aviation deserves better access than another. Indeed, the economic discrimination provisions in the Federal Aviation Act and the grant assurances make it clear that airport access cannot be denied on the basis of ability and willingness to pay.”

Paul Lowe contributed to this article.