Thursday, April 26, 2001

Report details airport backups

Helps make case for new runways

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is one of most efficient in the country when it comes to using its runway space, a report issued Wednesday by the Federal Aviation Administration showed.

        But that same report — which measured capacity at each of the nation's 31 largest airports — ranked the local airport 16th in delays caused by either weather or issues controlled by the FAA such as air traffic control and equipment.

        “We're doing well, but the big thing the report shows is that we are going to continue to grow and we've got to keep up,” said Bob Holscher, airport director of aviation.

        While the report pointed out that local airport efficiency was good, demand is projected to grow 40 percent in the next 10 years.

   The 10 airports with the greatest number of delayed takeoffs or landings in 2000, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.*
   1. New York La Guardia, 61,120 delays, 15.6 percent of takeoffs or landings.
   2. Chicago O'Hare, 57,545, 6.3 percent.
   3. Newark, 37,132, 8.1 percent.
   4. Atlanta, 28,229, 3.1 percent.
   5. San Francisco, 24,478, 5.7 percent.
   6. Boston, 24,120, 4.7 percent.
   7. Philadelphia, 21,521, 4.5 percent.
   8. Dallas-Fort Worth, 20,638, 2.4 percent.
   9. Los Angeles, 17,141, 2.2 percent.
   10. Phoenix, 14,024, 2.2 percent.
   16. Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, 7,360, 1.5 percent.
   * Delays include weather, airport or air traffic control equipment issues, or heavy volume only.
   Source: FAA
        That is why airport officials have applied for FAA approval to build a new north-south runway and extend the east-west runway. The public comment period on a draft version of the FAA's environmental impact study ends May 2, meaning that approval could come by the end of the year if the final report doesn't show major problems.

        The runway projects, estimated to cost almost $225 million, could be open as soon as 2005, and the report says it would increase capacity by 26 percent.

        The airport is Delta Air Lines' second-largest hub and the main hub for Comair, a Delta subsidiary and the nation's third-largest regional carrier.

        FAA officials said the unprecedented report was undertaken to help start dialogue on how to handle air delays, which have plagued the nation's air system.

        Last year was the worst on record, with almost one in four flights delayed, canceled or diverted, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

        “We are looking to add capacity and reduce delays,” said Peter Challan, FAA deputy associate administrator for air traffic services. “We expect the broad community as well as the airlines to help us come up with and execute some of the issues and constraints this report shows.”

        The FAA report did not consider delays caused by problems other than capacity or weather issues, such as mechanical or labor trouble. But it did consider congestion caused by airlines, which have taken to overscheduling flights for the capacity of certain airports.

        Only six new runways have been built at the nation's top 31 airports in 10 years, and many are constrained by infrastructure or geography, the report said. So other alternatives such as flatter scheduling, newer technology and more efficient takeoff and landing procedures could enhance capacity.

        Airports where capacity is a large issue include LaGuardia in New York, the nation's most-delayed airport; Chicago's O'Hare, where overscheduling is a major problem; and Atlanta, which has recently gotten better since Delta Air Lines changed its scheduling.

        Delta's scheduling is not seen as a problem in Cincinnati.

        In fact, the report said, Cincinnati can handle 123 to 125 flights an hour under optimum conditions, and that number drops to just 121 to 125 in poor visibility.

        Between October and the end of March, the airport averaged only three 15-minute periods where it exceeded that capacity in both good and adverse weather conditions.

        However, the airport still had 15.4 delays for every 1,000 takeoffs and landings in all of 2000, according to the FAA.

        But that pales in comparison to the rate of 155.9 per 1,000 at LaGuardia or even 30.9 per 1,000 in Atlanta.

        Still, Mr. Holscher said, despite the good marks given to Cincinnati, the report shows the need for more local runway space.

        The fact that the airport was planning ahead to ensure that it doesn't encounter the kinds of problems seen elsewhere was encouraging, said Larry Kiernan, manager of the capacity branch of the FAA's office of airports.

        “They are a transfer hub, and that brings enormous economic growth to the community, and they're not about to let that go by not keeping up,” Mr. Kiernan said.

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