Growing traffic delay problems

Date:         09 Apr 2001 15:37:01 
From:         "AirEcGrp" <>
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In the last few years we have been witnessing a growing air traffic delay
problem in the US.  There is a great deal of debate regarding the solutions
to these problems and a great deal of finger pointing.  While the airlines
point the finger at ATC and the weather, a recent editorial points the
finger back at the airlines themselves.  I thought the peice offered some
pretty valid suggestions, what do you all think?

Ten Things Airlines Should Do About Airspace Capacity Problem

The long simmering airspace capacity problem is coming to a boil in the
U.S., after years of warnings.  Recently, the Air Transport Association of
America listed a "Top Ten List" of things the airlines want the FAA to do to
help turn things around.  Wingman thinks the airlines, themselves, could do
more to help.

Here's Wingman's list of ten things the airlines should do as quickly as
possible to ensure the continuing viability of their industry:

  1.. Take back the responsibility for the basic purpose for their business:
transporting passengers safely, efficiently and reliably by air. This
includes not taking for granted what happens between gate push-back and gate
arrival - and it goes beyond collaborative decision making.  While airline
safety is still exceptional, airline flight efficiency is declining and its
flight schedule reliability is rapidly deteriorating.  Hoping someone else
(read FAA) will fix it, is wishful dreaming.

  2.. Install a high-level manager to oversee airspace improvement within
each airline. This person - who needs to be an innovative manager with
experience in airspace operations - might come from the airline's pilot
ranks, but that is not absolutely necessary.  Such a person could come from
an airlines' dispatch and operational planning function, or its engineering
group.  Whatever the person's background, it is important that the person be
intimately knowledgeable about how the airspace system works.  What is even
more important, is that each airline clearly send a message, internally and
to outsiders, that it intends to take the problem of airspace improvement
seriously. Therefore, this manager needs to report to, at least, the airline
's highest ranking operational executive.

  3.. Show up at industry airspace operational meetings.  These certainly
include RTCA's Free Flight effort and airspace redefinition. For too long,
airlines have been absent from important industry deliberations on the
concepts and procedures for managing tomorrow's airspace. (There have been a
few notable exceptions to this, such as American's Robert Baker chairing the
Free Flight Steering Committee.) This has been unfortunate, because the
airlines lack of interest has retarded the process of introducing the new
technology and techniques that could have helped prevent the present
problem - first, because it creates doubts about airline buy-in, and second,
because it restricts airline input on how things actually work in the real

  4.. Participate in industry standards activities. There is little debate
about the need for standards in aviation. Global flight would be nearly
impossible without the worldwide operational requirements of ICAO, the
minimum operational and performance standards of RTCA and Eurocae,  along
with the form, fit and function specifications of AEEC,  which make avionics
both practical and affordable.  Yet, in recent years airlines seem to take
these necessary functions for granted.  Unfortunately, the airlines' lack of
interest has slowed the decision-making of these groups and may have
inhibited the quality of their work as well.

  5.. Take more initiative in conducting trials, demonstrations and other
activities to develop, evaluate and prove the value of new procedures and
technologies.  Airlines have access to the expertise, facilities and
equipment necessary to do some of the required proof-of-concept work and
evaluations required to develop both the equipment and procedures needed for
real, worthwhile modernization.  The Ohio Valley operational surveillance
evaluations over the last two years have been one example of this.  U.S.
airlines are currently participating in new datalink communications work, as
well.  But these aren't enough to affect the necessary changes which must be
implemented much faster.  Compared to the losses (both direct and
intangible) airlines suffer from airspace-related disruptions and poor
service, these contributions to help understand and validate  improvements
are minor.

  6.. Don't be stymied by faulty competitive concerns or the
not-invented-here syndrome.  Each airline cannot and should not invent an
improved airspace system by itself.  Nor should new flight procedures be
proprietary if they have synergistic effects by mass adoption.  On the other
hand,  there are self-help and competitive opportunities which innovative
airlines can successfully exploit to gain competitive advantages. These
might be especially possible at hub-dominated airports.

  7.. Reconstitute the divisions in flight operations and engineering that
keep track of and contribute to what's going on in the airspace.  Airlines
have too long neglected their "sky factory."  This assertion may seem
strange, but very few airline people really know much about it - even line
pilots. (This is not meant to disparage their professionalism, but
day-to-day flying is not the same as becoming really expert about airspace
technology, management and innovation.  Still, the airline people who know
the most about the sky factory are pilots and dispatchers, but for a number
of reasons - some cost-related - they're often not consulted.  Qualified
pilots, engineers and operational control managers within airlines need to
be identified, nurtured and supported.  And the job is to big, important and
complex to handed off as subsidiary duty for a training pilot or check
airman.  A big problem for many airlines, however, is that pilots and
dispatchers are union members and therefore excluded from management roles
for contractual and cultural reasons.

  8.. Collect and share operational data with more detail, using flight
operations quality assurance (FOQA) recorders and other data gathering and
analytical devices.   We hear more and more about the need of data to
understand what is happening in our airspace and to validate steps to
improve it.  Some of it is relatively easy and inexpensive to get. Today's
airplanes have a myriad of sensors that can collect that data, and there are
retrieval systems and data reduction programs which can economically analyze
the resulting information. These data need to be collected, shared and
analyzed as quickly as possible for the benefit of all.

  9.. Become more realistic about payback requirements. For too long,
airlines have cowed avionics suppliers with unreasonable investment payback
hurdles.  It may be understandable, that managers need simple formulas to
sift through an overwhelming number of capital budget requests.  But
investments in the sky factory cannot be treated the same way as typical
requests for new equipment.  Investments in airspace infrastructure needs
the same long-term view as purchases of new airplanes.

  10.. Be open to new ideas.  The airlines' we're-not-interested response to
the idea of ATC privatization, as publicized by the Air Transport
Association, was disappointing. There may seem to be good reasons for this:
fear of labor's  reaction, fear of losing some relative near-term cost
advantage, a vain hope that former President Clinton's new ATC management
structure will somehow change things, or even fear of the unknown.  But
airlines in particular have a vested interest in solving "sky factory"
problems. Their unwillingness to question the ATC status quo doesn't inspire
confidence that they have enough awareness of their perilous future.

This editorial appeared in Flt Tech Online in the editorial Wingman section.