A duel in the sky: Airlines vs. private jets

Discussion in 'Modern' started by syscom3, Aug 28, 2007.

  1. syscom3

    syscom3 Pacific Historian

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    A duel in the sky: Airlines vs. private jets
    By Nelson D. Schwartz
    Sunday, August 26, 2007

    A duel in the sky: Airlines vs. private jets - Print Version - International Herald Tribune

    NEW YORK: The summer travel season is building toward its Labor Day peak in the United States, and fliers are growing ever angrier about delays. Now, the beleaguered airline industry is trying to shift the blame onto an unlikely villain: corporate jets, which the airlines claim are literally crowding passenger planes out of the sky.

    In what is shaping up as a smackdown between two of the least popular constituencies out there - airlines and corporate chieftains - the argument over the delays plaguing airports across America this summer is quickly taking a populist turn.

    It is a delicious twist. After all, the airlines themselves have been on the receiving end of populist outrage, especially after delays that stranded passengers for hours in overcrowded airliners. But now the industry's lobbying group in Washington, the Air Transport Association, has charged that the explosive growth of corporate jets is the real culprit.

    The reality is that the root causes of the delays are manifold - airports with little or no spare capacity, a 1950s air traffic control system, and burgeoning demand for direct flights to smaller cities.

    And the people who own and use private jets are quick to say that airlines are offering them up as scapegoats.

    "The vast majority of delays are caused by weather," said Steve Brown, senior vice president for operations at the National Business Aviation Association, a group representing owners of private business aircraft. "The airlines have overscheduled everything so if the smallest weather pattern develops, you have cascading delays all day long."

    But many independent observers say corporate flights are also responsible for some of the logjam, especially in congested cities like New York and Los Angeles.

    "Corporate jets may be smaller, but they still take up space," said Steve Danishek, an independent travel industry consultant based in Seattle. "There's just a finite number of slots, and we have no wiggle room left."

    The argument over the delays comes down to two kinds of congestion - on the tarmac and in the sky.

    On tarmacs, planes compete for opportunities to take off and land, often at busy hubs like Miami International Airport. What's more, the Federal Aviation Administration lacks clear rules giving preference to commercial planes with hundreds of passengers over small jets with just a handful.

    "First come, first served is the model we use to operate the aviation system," said Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA.

    So, although corporate jets tend to use smaller airports in the New York area, it's possible that a crowded 737 might have to wait for a tiny Gulfstream to take off in Miami or at Dulles, outside Washington.

    The users of corporate jets defend this practice, saying they deserve equal takeoff rights. "On a business flight, you might have people going to Wall Street from companies who are creating jobs and generating billions of dollars in commerce," Brown said. "People on a commercial flight might be going on vacation or going to New York to go to the theater."

    Up in the sky, private jets often occupy the same air paths and rely on air traffic controllers to keep them away from other planes, even if they take off from smaller airports such as Westchester and Teterboro in the New York area instead of LaGuardia or Newark.

    On a typical day in the airspace over New York, roughly 20 percent to 30 percent of the air traffic comes from corporate jets, according to David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association.

    Brown, of the private jet group, does not dispute Castelveter's estimates of the amount of corporate traffic in the New York area, but he says the actual overlap is very small because the corporate jets are using the different airports and in most cases, different routes.

    Michael Baiada, a consultant in airline operations and a Boeing 747 captain for United Airlines, agrees that corporate jets are increasing the strain on air traffic controllers trying to prevent what is known in the industry as an "aluminum shower," a midair collision.

    "A blip is a blip, and all the controllers have is their eyes and their brains," Baiada said. "They're doing a great job, but there's already a huge strain on controllers and this just adds one more."

    Financial considerations add fuel to the debate. Corporate jets pay a fraction of the taxes and fees that commercial airliners do. The FAA estimates that private planes, which include both corporate jets and weekend fliers, account for 16 percent of the air traffic control system's overhead but contribute only 3 percent of the fees earmarked to run the system.

    To stoke populist outrage, the airline lobby has designed an online calculator that lets travelers compare fees. For example, a Boeing 737 flying from New York to Chicago pays $1,356 to the FAA's Airport and Airway Trust Fund, while a top-of-the-line Gulfstream contributes $161. The Air Transport Association has also created a Web-based ad campaign (Smart Skies) featuring a fictional traveler, Edna, complaining about the fee disparity while the computer screen displays waves of corporate jets filling the skies before and after sporting events like the Kentucky Derby and the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia.

    Now, with the financing of the Airport and Airway Trust Fund, which supplies a sizable portion of the FAA budget, set to expire in September, the debate is shifting to Capitol Hill.

    The FAA has proposed altering the fee structure to cover the estimated $15 billion to $25 billion cost of modernizing the current air traffic control system. Its plan, now before Congress, would replace the existing ticket tax with user fees for commercial planes, while sharply increasing the fuel tax for private jets and also hitting corporate fliers with extra charges to land at any of the country's 30 most congested airports.

    It is this change in the funding formula that set off the conflict between the airlines and the private jet owners. Corporate jet advocates like Brown accuse the airlines of using the delay problem to deflect blame and hit them with the bill for upgrading the system.

    "You can talk about airplane numbers, but the airlines are in the air a lot more than we are, 10 times as much," Brown said. The airline industry, he added, "is spending more time pointing fingers than fixing its own problems."

    Independent experts like Mike Boyd, an aviation industry consultant, say both sides are ducking the real issue. "It's like arguing over the bar tab on the Hindenburg," Boyd said. "The air traffic control system is out of date and broken down, but neither side wants to pay to fix it."
     
  2. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    "You can talk about airplane numbers, but the airlines are in the air a lot more than we are, 10 times as much," Brown said. The airline industry, he added, "is spending more time pointing fingers than fixing its own problems."

    That's the real problem.
     
  3. ccheese

    ccheese Member In Perpetuity
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    Remember the 1960 movie, "The Crowded Sky"? A Navy jet going in one
    direction with radio and navaid failure and a commercial airliner going in
    the other. It can get hairy up there even with navaids and radios.

    Charles
     
  4. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Yeah, no ****. Even low down it's hairy. Especially back when VORs were the only way to get it together for a long flight. Heading in on a VOR on the East Coast on a Saturday in Summer looked a lot like driving on the Long Island Expressway at the same time. There were birds everywhere. And you probably only saw 20% of the ones that were out there.

    Hairy.
     
  5. mkloby

    mkloby Active Member

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    Definitely one of the benefits of GPS - getting to break away from the old low alt and jet airways.
     
  6. Matt308

    Matt308 Glock Perfection
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    What has me wondering is how the Very Light Jets will play into NAS throughput. The FAA is marching towards a major acquisition of new CNS ground equipment with a stated threefold increase in NAS efficiency. :rolleyes:

    And I just read that a new VLJ was certified with a 320knot cruise speed. How do you mix VLJs with Mach 0.87 cruise speed transport category airplanes? If predictions of VLJs come true, they could introduce 15,000 more aircraft that will have to be managed in the next 10-15 years. Threefold increase. Phooey on that.
     
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