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Special Event

President Clinton Outlines New FAA Plan to Reduce Airline Congestion

Aired March 10, 2000 - 11:20 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

TERRY KEENAN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go back to the White House, where President Clinton is speaking about airport delays. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... and the other aviation leaders who have made a truly remarkable team for this announcement.

Before I talk about the air travel issue, because this is my only opportunity to meet with the press today, and because I had the unusual good fortune of letting them parade in ahead of us here, it was -- I actually tried to get Mark Knoller (ph) to do this announcement, but he refused -- I want to say a few words about a very down-to-earth issue, the proposal to raise the minimum wage.

I have called for a simple $1 increase in the minimum wage to help millions of families. Last night, dozens of Republicans joined us in forming a majority to raise the minimum wage by a dollar over two years.

But unfortunately the leadership turned that common sense act into a dead letter by insisting they would only have a minimum wage increase if we turn back overtime protections for over a million workers and use the bill to give a large tax cut, which both disproportionately benefits the wealthiest Americans and would put our prosperity at risk by making it impossible for us to continue to pay down the debt and to save Social Security and Medicare.

Now, I think the American people question why Congress can't do something as simple as raising the minimum wage without loading it up with special favors, and I think it's a good question. The right answer is to send me a clean bill, a bill simple and clear that could fit on side of one piece of paper.

In fact, if you look at it, that's exactly what our minimum wage bill does. Not very big, not very complicated. And I hope that we can pass it. I'm looking forward to working with the Congress; I have not given up on this and I have given -- been given some encouraging signals that we might yet be able to reach an agreement. So I will keep working on it.

Now, let me again welcome all the representatives of the transportation industry here.

He has worked on this for a long time. You mentioned -- Secretary Slater mentioned the meeting we had in Everett, Washington. When I took office, the airline industry was in trouble. We've all worked very hard for the successes of the last seven years and all the actors in the industry have.

I also would like to say a special word of appreciation to someone who is not here, Vice President Gore, who headed our commission on airline safety and security. It was part of our reinventing government effort. And I thank him for his efforts and all the people who work on that endeavor.

We know that delays pile up as flights increase and thunderstorms snarl the skies. We know with springtime coming that we don't want to forget, as Rodney said, that last year summer storms were the worst, or some of the worst, on records.

The air traffic control system couldn't respond fast enough. More than 1,200 aircraft were late every day last summer.

Delays rose by 22 percent last year overall. It's not good for travelers, it's not good for the airline industry, and it's not good for the overall economy.

Of course, when it comes to air travel, safety is the most important thing. In severe flight weather, flights will be canceled or delayed for safety reasons. And passengers wouldn't have it any other way.

And as we work to keep the travel as safe as it can be, we should also do everything we can to make it as efficient as it can be.

After last summer's record delays, the Federal Aviation Administration put together an extraordinary partnership with the airline industry, the pilots, the workers who keep the planes in the air, the air traffic controllers who bring them home safe.

Together they developed a faster, more efficient response to storms. And they came here today to brief me on the improvements we can all expect this summer.

First, better communications will let pilots and passengers know promptly whether they can expect a delay measured in minutes or in hours.

Second, centralized air traffic decision making will let us respond better to the really big storms that can stretch the length of the East Coast, or from Houston to the Great Lakes.

Third, new technology will help FAA and airline experts use air space more efficiently, detect storms sooner, and keep runways working, even in bad weather.

Fourth, FAA and airline representatives will share information several times a day, working off the same state-of-the-art weather forecast.

And, finally, next month the FAA will open a web site with up to the minute weather information for consumers.

I want to thank all the organizations represented here for working together. And I thank all the members of Congress who have supported these reforms.

Let me also mention that Congress is close to finalizing the FAA reauthorization bill. I know, it's important to Secretary Slater, because he sent me a memo about it yesterday.

(LAUGHTER)

This will provide ample funding to upgrade facilities and equipment at airports and at air traffic control centers, if we want to minimize delays and maximize safety we need this FAA reauthorization and these fundings -- this funding.

I think, everybody here who's done a lot of air travel knows that we need to upgrade the facilities and the equipment, and the air traffic control centers. But I am concerned that too little funding will be available for air traffic control operations. That's the bedrock of efficiency and safety. And although the bill contains some first steps forward it doesn't go far enough toward the system-wide reform we need.

We must bring the air traffic control system and the way it's managed into the 21st century. We have the safest air travel in the world, but as more and more Americans take to the air, we need to make our system as efficient as it is safe.

The FAA expects passenger traffic to arise by more than 50 percent in the next 10 years. Freight traffic will almost double in the same period. Busier skies means we have to work harder to keep our skies safe and to keep planes flying on time. So today I'm directing the FAA to develop a plan for broader reform of the air traffic control system and to report back to me in 45 days, building from fundamental principles.

America's 21st century air traffic control system should provide 21st century high-tech service. The system has worked better with its customers, the commercial airlines and others who pay for the system.

It must be able to look beyond next year's budget cycle and fund new technology we need over a multi-year period.

We must meet these challenges in a way that helps, not harms, everyone who's a part of the air traffic control system. And we must always keep safety at the top of our agenda.

With other government agencies and the private sector, I ask the FAA to look ahead to our ultimate goal, putting together a seamless state-of-the-art system from coast to coast.

Now, until we work out a way to get Mother Nature to cooperate, storms, delays and cancellations will always be with us. And the American people understand that. But they also understand that if we can photograph and analyze weather patterns from space, we ought to be able to tell passengers why they're delayed and for how long.

If we can guide the space shuttle into orbit and back, we ought to be able to guide planes around thunderstorms safely.

We can do a better job. Starting next summer, with the help of everyone here today, we will.

Again let me say, to Secretary Slater and to Jane Garvey and to all the people standing with me and all of you sitting out in the audience who had anything to do with this, this is the way our country ought to work in a lot of other contexts.

I thank you for what you have done. I think we have to do more. But this summer a lot of people will benefit from the enormous efforts you have made, and I am very, very grateful. Thank you very much.

(APPLAUSE)

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening to President Clinton from the Roosevelt Room of the White House as he talks about a plan to deal with air traffic delays. According to that plan, if you are stuck in an airport, you will know as passenger if your delay will come in minutes or hours. Also, the FAA national command center in Virginia will have the authority, more authority, to manage traffic, which should help move planes from region to region. To give you an idea of how bad it is out there, from April to August last year, delays in that time period were up 36 percent over the previous years, and summer storms and that same season are on the way.

Also underway: a $13-billion overhaul of the air traffic control system and their computers, which the pilots tell us is what's really going to make the big difference.

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