Touching Bases: FAA's E-STMP program under fire, again

 - August 5, 2008, 8:25 AM

A special traffic management program (STMP) for the Sun Valley, Idaho area last month has evoked the ire of some pilots who could not get slots. As happened last winter with some remote ski-country airports, such as Eagle, Colo., near the Vail resort, several pilots have complained on the NBAA Air Mail Internet forum that fractional operators have abused the slot system by using their dispatch staffs to acquire and hoard slots that they didn’t use. “Not so,” says NBAA, and the FAA’s Salt Lake Center agrees.

According to FAA records, there were 58 reservations filed for July 7, the first day of the Sun Valley STMP. Of those, 45 did not show and did not cancel their reservations. But the FAA says only nine of the no-shows (20 percent) were fractionally owned airplanes.

Some disgruntled pilots have expressed the view that fractional operators (specifically NetJets) use sophisticated, expensive software to tap the electronic STMP reservation system (so called, e-STMP) at the precise nano-second that the reservations become available. Not so, again, according to NBAA. The association told AIN that the FAA reception system is far less exact than that–in fact, it could be off by as much as five minutes either way.

Bob Lamond, NBAA’s airport and airways specialist, is not unsympathetic, but frustrated by the pilots who think that abuse of the STMP system is solely to blame for their not getting slots. He told AIN, “I’ve said this before. The problem with these airports is that you can’t fit 500 marbles in a 50-marble-size jar. Radar would help in some of the mountain sites, but only marginally. They’re in valleys, and there has to be room for missed approaches.” The fact that the airports are in valleys is also why more runways can’t be built, said Lamond. He lamented, “The only way to solve the problem once and for all would be to level the mountains, and then there’d be no reason to go there.”