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Airlines urge spending to reduce flight delays


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Call for more controllers

Signal to Bush

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nation's major airlines Wednesday called on the federal government to expedite improvements to the air traffic control system to reduce airline delays.

The Air Transport Association, which represents the airlines, said it will ask President Bush and Congress to cut the timetable for planned improvements from 10 years to five.

"We transformed the interstate highway system some years ago. Now what we're suggesting is that we go from a one-lane country road in the sky to a multi-lane interstate highway in the sky to accommodate all of the airlines that are flying today," ATA President Carol Hallett said.

Check out the new ATA Web site detailing airlines' efforts to improve service

Of special importance, the ATA said, is implementation of the Global Positioning System -- a satellite-based system that eventually will replace ground-based radar as the primary method of aviation navigation. By spending $2.15 billion over five years instead of 10, related systems can come on-line much earlier than planned, Hallett said.

Call for more controllers

The Federal Aviation Administration also should speed up hiring of 1,050 air traffic controllers, some of which will offset the departure of controllers who are retiring or taking other jobs, the ATA said.

The FAA said a record 450,289 flights were delayed in 2000 -- a 20 per cent increase over 1999. About 69 per cent of all delays were due to weather; 14 per cent were due to volume.

The ATA's announcement comes just days before the Department of Transportation's inspector general is expected to release a report card on airline performance, and some see the ATA's move as a pre-emptive strike intended to focus blame for delays on the FAA.

U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, a New York Democrat, said the airlines were "behaving like a child trying to head off a bad report card."

"The big airlines are hurrying to make excuses for a shoddy performance and refusing to take responsibility for what can only be described as a disastrous year for travelers," she said in response to the ATA.

Signal to Bush

Hallett said the press conference was a signal to the new administration that there are ways the system can and should be improved.

Hallett said the costly improvements can be accomplished by using money already in the aviation trust fund, which is funded largely by air travelers.

Other ATA recommendations include speeding up improvements to the FAA's HOST computer, which it called the "central nervous system" that handles high altitude air traffic, and to the redesign of the nation's airspace to relieve the daily saturation.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Senate bills aim to improve air travel
January 30, 2001
Report: Flight delays at all-time high in 2000
January 22, 2001
Senator introduces bill to make airlines more accountable
July 20, 2000
Federal report gives mixed reviews to airline service efforts
June 27, 2000

Air Transport Association
Federal Aviation Administration
U.S. Department of Transportation

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