WASHINGTON – President Bush promised on Thursday to take steps to reduce air traffic congestion and long delays that have left travelers grounded.
"Endless hours sitting in an airplane on a runway with no communication between a pilot and the airport is just not right," he said.
Bush met in the Oval Office with Transportation Secretary Mary Peters and acting Federal Aviation Administrator Bobby Sturgell. The president urged Congress to look at legislation to modernize the FAA, and instructed Peters to report back to him quickly about ways to ensure that air passengers are treated appropriately and progress is made to ease congestion.
"We've got a problem," Bush said. "We understand there's a problem. And we're going to address the problem."
After the meeting, Peters told reporters she is asking airlines to meet to formulate a plan to improve scheduling at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, one of the nation's busiest. If no solution is found, she said, the department is prepared to issue a scheduling reduction order.
She said the agency is also improving the department's complaint system and is acting to increase compensation for passengers involuntarily bumped from flights from $200 to more than $600.
Peters said all options are on the table, including forcing airlines to pay more to fly during peak travel periods. Earlier Thursday, airline executives told Congress that paying more wouldn't mitigate the record delays.
That strategy "will do nothing more than reduce service to small communities, reduce job growth and raise fares for commercial passengers," Zane Rowe, senior vice president of network strategy at Continental Airlines Inc., told the Senate subcommittee on aviation operations, safety and security.
New York's LaGuardia International Airport used a congestion pricing model in the 1960s that FAA officials say worked well.
The airline industry's on-time performance in the first seven months of 2007 was its worst since comparable data began being collected in 1995, according to the government. In July, the most recent month for which data are available, 20 carriers reported an on-time arrival rate of 69.8 percent, down from 73.7 percent a year earlier.
JFK International normally has enough capacity for 44 departures between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., but commercial airlines regularly schedule 57 departures, said Steve Brown, a former associate administrator for air traffic services at the FAA.