Crowded skies: Planes outnumber runways

Tue, 11/20/2007 - 5:18pm
By: Letters to the ...

I spent more than 40 years in aviation and 38 years of that was in Air Traffic Control (ATC). For more than 13 years I evaluated the Air Traffic Control system for the FAA.

I have heard all the excuses for air traffic delays, including the crowded skies, the aging ATC system, overworked air traffic controllers, etc.

The two I rarely hear are the two that matter most — that is, the number of runways at any given location available to accommodate the number of aircraft that want to land, and the number of aircraft that any one controller can have have under his/her jurisdiction at any given time.

Simply put, you can depart aircraft at a faster rate than you can land them.

For example (and for simplicity’s sake), one airport may be able to depart 30 aircraft off one runway in one hour. Another airport (the destination) can only land those aircraft at the rate of 20 per hour.

What happens to the other 10? They are slowed down or held in a holding pattern until such time that they can be accommodated. If that airport had two runways, the delays would disappear.

Now factor in all the departures from many airports wanting to land at any one airport which, incidentally, has to allow room for its own departures, and you can see where delays are inevitable.

Build an infinite number of runways at any location and the delays would disappear. That, of course, will never happen.

The other part of the equation is that air traffic controllers are limited, to some degree, with the number of aircraft they can handle at any given time. That is a human limitation and cannot be changed. Each controller is unique and has his/her own abilities and limitations.

If a controller at a major airport is capable of working 15 aircraft at a time, nothing is going to change that. The controller’s efforts can be supplemented with automation and that’s where modernizing the ATC system comes into play. But, there will still be a limit to the number of aircraft that any one controller can safely have under his/her control.

With that said, the opening up of military airspace for civilian use will do nothing to reduce delays. In fact, if you open up more airspace for more aircraft, the delays will only increase because the runways available cannot accommodate the arrivals, and controllers will be asked to work higher volumes of traffic, which, in my opinion, could result in an unsafe ATC environment.

I hope this makes sense and helps clarify what I consider the real issues behind delays and the “crowded sky.”

Roy A. Robison

Peachtree City, Ga.

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Submitted by skyspy on Tue, 11/20/2007 - 6:57pm.

One of the reasons for delays in my opinion is the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 if memory serves. That was the begining of the problem of delays. The american people cried and begged for it, they thought it would bring the price of tickets down. They were right it did bring the cost of tickets down.

Now anyone with a few bucks can over-schedule an airport with as many planes or flights as they want too. The tickets are cheap, anyone can fly. All of that over-crowding comes at a hidden cost of more delays. Instead of complaining about the cost of tickets now they are complaining about delays. Americans want what they want when they want it, just like the average 2yr old everywhere.

Our current system works fine, and is still the safest air traffic system in the world. If we go back to regulation it would work without as many delays.

There is good and bad with everything. The american people got what they wanted ie: cheaper tickets. They just don't like what they wanted. To be fair I don't think any aviation expert in 1978 really thought our wide open sky would fill up as quickly as it did.

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