Commercial airlines oppose a government investigator's recommendation that the industry should set mandatory time limits for removing passengers from delayed aircraft.
The Transportation Department's inspector general recommends all airlines define extended delays, set a time limit for deplaning passengers and publicize those policies. But the head of the Air Transport Association on Wednesday argued that imposing such deadlines would do more harm than good after a summer of record-setting delays.
"Imposing an arbitrary time frame to deplane passengers will have numerous unintended consequences that are likely to increase cancellations and cause even greater delays for passengers," ATA President and Chief Executive James C. May said in testimony for a House subcommittee on aviation hearing exploring the recent run of record airline delays.
Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III's report examined the on-board delays that plagued JetBlue Airways Corp., AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and others last winter in which hundreds of passengers were stuck on jetliners for up to 10 1/2 hours.
Carriers' existing time limits for deplaning passengers range from 1.5 to five hours, but Scovel did not suggest a specific limit for airlines to adopt.
The report, released Tuesday, also found five carriers — Delta Air Lines, Midwest Airlines, U.S. Airways, ATA Airlines and Aloha Airlines — have no time limits outlined in their customer service plans or internal policies.
"Some of our members have identified specific time frames in their customer commitments, while others have established internal policies and procedures to ensure that delayed flights are monitored and timely decisions are made to hold or cancel a flight," May said.
Lawmakers led by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., peppered acting Federal Aviation Administrator Bobby Sturgell with questions about what the FAA will do when the airlines submit their summer flight plans to the agency in March "and have scheduled more flights than can possibly take off" at peak times?
"We're certainly interested in congestion pricing," Sturgell said, referring to higher fees airlines pay in some cities, including Chicago, to operate flights during peak times.
New York's LaGuardia International Airport used a congestion pricing model in the 1960s that worked well, according to FAA officials, and subcommittee Chairman Jerry Costello, D-Ill., said legislation dealing with the issue would be considered.
ATA spokesman David Castelveter was less enthusiastic, saying no single solution will reduce delays.
Increased demand, coupled with smaller planes making more flights and the FAA's current system of taxes and fees encouraging that model, has pushed the system to its breaking point when bad weather or runway construction also are factors. Without changes, delays will increase by more than 60 percent over current levels by 2014.
Congress has until the end of the month to reauthorize the FAA and possibly raise taxes and fees to pay for upgrades to the air traffic control system and other aviation programs. Commercial airlines are battling corporate jets and small plane operators over what share of the cost they each should shoulder.
The ATA and the White House say a House-passed FAA funding bill does not fairly link fees to system use.
A Senate subcommittee has a hearing on delays and air traffic modernization scheduled for Thursday with Scovel, Sturgell, and executives from American, Delta and Continental Airlines scheduled to testify.