Traffic congestion hits US skies

Washington: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said Thursday that congestion in US skies is now becoming a chronic problem and airline passengers can now expect more delays with airplanes crowding the skies.
The agency expects traffic to increase by an average of 1.4 million more takeoffs and landings every year until 2020. It also said that in 2006, air traffic controllers handled 61.1 million takeoffs and landings. "Delays are mounting due to congested airspace and congested airports," said FAA administrator Marion Blakey. "The congestion is really becoming a chronic thing."

According to Blakey, 2006 was the worst year ever for delays, with more than 490,000 flights departing or arriving late. She also said that 2007 would only continue to reflect this trend.

As part of its annual aviation forecast the FAA said that domestic airline ticket prices are expected to increase by 0.4 per cent this year before dropping an average of 0.9 per cent annually.

The agency also predicts that airline traffic in the US will grow faster at hub airports than at smaller ones. Washington's Dulles International Airport will experience the most growth in the country, 68 per cent, by 2020. Air traffic at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport is also slated to grow by 59 per cent, followed by Los Angeles International Airport at 54 per cent and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport at 38 per cent.

Blakey said the nation's aging air traffic control system needed to be replaced if gridlock in the skies was to be avoided. To pay for the new satellite-based navigation system, the FAA proposes to replace the ticket tax now paid by airline passengers with a combination of fees and taxes, which would force corporate jet users to bear more of the cost of the new system.