Here’s a statement from the U.S. Air Transport Association (ATA) — the airlines’ lobby group — about variable landing fees for U.S. airports (e.g. higher at peak times, lower other times):
“Unfortunately, [the policy] does nothing to fix the primary cause of delays – our nation’s increasingly antiquated air traffic control system,” ATA CEO Jim May said. “Additional fees . . . will only increase the cost of flying for the consumer.”
Yes, the U.S. ATC system is antiquated, and yes, higher peak-hour fees at big airports may mean higher ticket prices, but how is ATC the problem? Flights don’t get delayed because a controller has to use a voice line to coordinate hand-offs or stare at a cold-war era radar screen; they get delayed because runways at big hubs can handle only a limited number of landings per hour. The proof is in the fact that there are almost never delays flying to small airports. (Ever had a ground hold waiting to fly to Massena, NY? Didn’t think so.)
Let’s make it really easy for the ATA:
- Big airport (called “hub”) has one active landing runway.
- Runway can handle 40 landings every hour.
- Your members (airlines) schedule 50 flights per hour into the hub.
- Planes land late.
Give the FAA as much new shiny technology as you want, but if there aren’t enough runways, it won’t help. Do you really want to be flying heavy jets a minute apart or less? Fancy navigation technology won’t get rid of wake turbulence.