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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 15, 2007

Press Briefing by Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and FAA Acting Vice President of Systems Operations Nancy Kalinowski on Aviation Congestion
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

     Fact sheet Fact Sheet: Taking Administrative Action to Address Air Traffic Delays
     Fact sheet President Bush Discusses Aviation Congestion

1:52 P.M. EST

MR. STANZEL: Good afternoon. We'll go ahead and get started here. Thank you all for being here. We're joined today for this on-the-record briefing, off-camera briefing by Secretary Mary Peters, Secretary of Transportation; also experts here from DOT and FAA. We have FAA Acting Vice President of Systems Operations Nancy Kalinowski and D.J. Gribbin, who is the DOT General Counsel, who can answer questions, as well, about regulatory process.

So with that I'll turn it over to the Secretary for a few comments and then we'll take your questions.

SECRETARY PETERS: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone.

Back in September, President Bush called for immediate actions to protect consumers and to make air travel over the holidays more pleasant than it was last summer. Today I briefed the President on new steps that we are taking to improve the experience for people flying home for the holidays and beyond. We are determined not to let airline delays turn holiday cheer into runway gloom.

Through the work of the Federal Aviation Administration and other agencies, we have come up with some short-term measures that will add capacity to handle holiday traffic. And as the President said, the FAA and the Department of Defense have reached an agreement that will allow commercial flights to take advantage of airspace typically used by the military. This added capacity will be especially important to travelers flying up and down the busy East Coast. Just as some urban areas open up the shoulders of their highway to ease rush hour commutes, opening these holiday rush lanes in the sky will give pilots additional options for flying around bad weather and speed traffic from New York airports.

The FAA is also partnering with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to take advantage of technologies and to make operational changes to improve efficiency and to reduce delays. For example, we recently put in place new runway procedures at Newark and JFK airports that will increase the number of planes that can land under certain runway configurations and certain weather conditions.

The President also spoke of the special preparations the FAA is making on its own for the holiday crunch. Our air traffic managers will work with controllers to make sure that air traffic facilities are well-staffed to handle holiday flights. And Acting Administrator Sturgell has imposed a moratorium on non-essential maintenance, construction and renovation projects at FAA facilities around Thanksgiving and also around the Christmas holidays so they will remain at full operating capacity and efficiency when travel is at its peak.

And, as the President said, we are announcing a series of new -- proposed new rules that will help passengers know what to expect when they book a flight. They will allow us to step up oversight of chronically delayed flights and enhance protections for consumers who are bumped, experience delays or have other complaints against the airlines.

Our proposed rules require airlines to respond to complaints within 30 days, and to set up an audit of their consumer complaint process to ensure that they are being responsive. We also proposed to double the compensation for passengers who are bumped from their flights when airlines over-book. This will go from $200 to $400 when the passenger can be booked on a new flight in under two hours; and from $400 to $800 for longer delays.

Our proposed rules further require carriers to adopt legally binding contingency plans for lengthy tarmac delays, including guarantees of adequate food, water, lavatory facilities, and medical attention. Nobody looks forward to having their flight delayed or canceled, but these rules will ease the uncertainty, it will smooth inconveniences, and it will give travelers due compensation for their troubles.

Our preface, though, and our ultimate goal, is to eliminate the delays in the first place. And we have zeroed in on a major choke point: the New York region. And we're on target for reporting back to the President by the end of the year on our proposed solutions. I remain optimistic that we will find ways to use market mechanisms to preserve passenger choice while reducing delays in the near term.

And we're all doing all we can to resolve our air congestion problems. But also, as the President said this afternoon, to address our delay problems we need legislation that would modernize our aviation system. We need Congress to heed these words, and soon. Delivering a long-term solution to the constrained capacity at our airports and in our airspace would be a very wonderful holiday gift to the American people.

This administration is committed to finding the long-term solutions to fixing our congested airline system, aviation system. In the meantime, the new steps that the President announced today will help provide travelers the relief from the holdup and delays.

Thank you so much, and we'll be pleased to answer your questions now. Thank you.


Q Can you explain a little bit further about how this military airspace is going to work? How many planes might it be able to accommodate? Don't you still have to land those same planes at the airports with the runways? So how will that help delays, ultimately, even if can get them there faster?

SECRETARY PETERS: Well, Lisa, there's a couple problems. One is with the takeoffs. Depending on where the plane is going, you could have more traffic going into the same area, and that's the case when we don't have these military routes. And I'm going to defer to Nancy to give us an answer about how many more planes they may be able to accommodate. But what it would do is move some of these planes off -- and Nancy, I think you have a map that would show us this. In fact, why don't you jump in here.

MS. KALINOWSKI: We have a diagram for you, and we can give it to you on email if you want it. But what we're talking about is the warning areas that are off the coast of the East Coast of the United States. And this is special-use airspace that is joint use; it is normally used by the military all the time -- they're doing exercises out there. And we worked an agreement with them to be able to release this airspace back to the civilian market so that the civilian airlines can use this airspace during the busy holiday season, during this Thanksgiving season. And what it does is, is it does allow -- we were able to put a route through that airspace, which essentially gets people out of the New York area quicker, especially if we have weather up and down the East Coast.

Now, during the summertime when we have storms, we can work in a real-time basis with the military in order to try to have access. But they use this every day. So now they are essentially giving us a five-day block that we can use the airspace and the airlines' can plan ahead.

Q But you still have that -- you still have sort of the choke points if you are at the airport, you still have to land them -- I mean, you might be able to get out of New York a little quicker, but on the other end you still have the runway capacity you have, as far as landing the planes.

MS. KALINOWSKI: We believe it's going to be able to help us get out of New York quicker for the holiday season.

Q Do you have any idea how many airplanes you'll be able to move -- I mean, is there a number that you can quantify at all?

MS. KALINOWSKI: It's going to depend on the weather. No.

SECRETARY PETERS: And by the way, let me introduce who Nancy is, so you know who she is. Nancy Kalinowski -- and we'll spell that for you later if you need that -- she's the vice president of support operations, basically the air traffic part of the organization. And I'm sorry, how many more planes, Nancy?

MS. KALINOWSKI: We're not -- we haven't done those statistics, so we just feel like we know how much traffic we're going to have for the holiday season and we're just going to get them out of the New York area quicker, especially --

SECRETARY PETERS: Yes, and let me explain --

Q -- just one airway or multiple airways or how does it --

MS. KALINOWSKI: It's two airways, essentially.

SECRETARY PETERS: And let me explain why we don't have advance numbers. What we're making available in advance of this holiday period is the use of this airspace, which hasn't happened in the past. As Nancy said, in the past if an incident came up -- a summer thunderstorm or something like that -- then we would negotiate with the military to see if we could use that space. But this time, this holiday period we're going to allow flights to plan in advance to use that space. It will be available Wednesday evening --

MS. KALINOWSKI: Wednesday evening at 6:00 p.m.

SECRETARY PETERS: Six p.m. Wednesday evening.

Q Through Sunday?

MS. KALINOWSKI: Wednesday at 4:00 p.m.


MS. KALINOWSKI: Through Sunday.

Q A quick follow up to what you just said. You said you were making, effectively, two new airways available. How many exist now?

MS. KALINOWSKI: Well, there are no airways through that airspace now.

Q Right, right, I know. But what I'm saying is, if you're thinking of it like a consumer does, how many lanes currently exist, and you're adding two more?

MS. KALINOWSKI: We're essentially adding to a route which allows airplanes to move up and down through that airspace.

SECRETARY PETERS: Nancy, absent opening these two new routes, how many routes are available under the normal configuration?

MS. KALINOWSKI: Oh, we have hundreds of routes up and down the East Coat. I mean --

Q So how much of a percentage increase in capacity is this?

MS. KALINOWSKI: It's not necessarily a capacity; it's more of an efficiency. It's an ability to have an alternative if we have bad weather on the East Coast. I mean, every day planes move up and down the East Coast. They move over land, some of them move slightly off the coast, or they use what we call the amber routes, which are outside of the warning area airspace.

Q So if the weather was perfectly clear during the Thanksgiving period, this actually wouldn't really help that much. It would really help only if there was bad weather; it gives you additional routes to reroute planes?

MS. KALINOWSKI: It will especially help during the bad weather. But I think many of the airlines are going to take advantage of these routes, even if we have good weather up and down the East Coast.

Q Is this putting added burden on the guy in the air traffic control center; new routes that he has to deal with that had been formerly just military?

SECRETARY PETERS: No, sir, we've used these routes on occasion during bad weather in the past, so the air traffic controllers are familiar with this. And the other thing we're doing, as we announced earlier and the President talked about, making sure that we have a sufficient number, and in fact are well-staffed, and overtime available to all of our air traffic controllers, so we have many more air traffic controllers on duty.

Q Is the government ready to do this at Christmas as well?

SECRETARY PETERS: We hope to be able to do it at Christmas as well.

Yes, sir.

Q Can you elaborate on the tarmac delay issue? When you have an extraordinary tarmac delay, I didn't hear you mention any time frame, any time limit on how long a full plane can sit on a tarmac.

SECRETARY PETERS: We haven't announced that yet, and in fact that will part of the regulatory process that we go through. But one thing that we're convinced of is we shouldn't have a one-size-fits-all approach to this, because every airport is a little bit different, based on the amount of apron space they have. What we want to do in working with the airports through this process is to define plans for each airport.

But again, in this holiday period, they're going to have extra rolling stairways. They're going to have extra gates so that they can move people off the plane in the event that we get long ground delays. But these are being fixed for every airport individually, as opposed to just, say, a flat two hours or three hours for everyone.

Q I mean, how long would you say is a logical time for a planeload of passengers to sit and wait?

SECRETARY PETERS: Well, part of the dilemma of that is, let's say hypothetically that we're two hours. And if I'm second for takeoff and I hit that two hours and I'm a passenger on that plane, I would likely rather go ahead to my destination than get sent back to the gate. So that's why we want to work with the airlines, the airports, and have a little flexibility.

Q What are these binding -- I'm sorry -- what are these binding things that you say the airlines are going to have to -- I'm a little bit fuzzy on the details.

SECRETARY PETERS: Yes, basically, we're asking airlines to -- we're going through a regulatory process on three things. Is that what you're referring to?

Q Yes.

SECRETARY PETERS: Okay. One is the amount of compensation for involuntary bumps. The second is to capture times --

Q I'm talking about the tarmac. You said that they had to have enough food --

SECRETARY PETERS: Oh, I'm sorry; I did say that. Food, water, lavatory facilities, and medical attention, if that is needed.

Yes, sir.

Q I want to go back to the airspace along the eastern seaboard again, There are hundreds of north-south routes now, and you're adding two?

SECRETARY PETERS: We're adding two; two, sir. But two that aren't used at all today. So think of it in the lady's other vernacular as an open lane, if you will, on a highway.

Q Last winter, obviously, we had horrific delays, especially around the Christmas holiday season. These military airways have been in existence for years. Why are we only now looking at them as an option?

SECRETARY PETERS: Well, we're looking at them now as an option that we're going to enable or set up before the holiday period arises. What's been done in the past is if a bad weather sets in, then we get on the phone with the military and negotiate the use of those routes. We're going to set them up in advance of this holiday period, so that we know and, in fact, can even schedule planes through that -- through those routes, which takes the pressure off of some of the other routes.

Q And in JFK -- in JFK, are there any specific changes made there? We've heard there may be some changes on the ground as far as runways and for taking off and landing. No changes there yet?

SECRETARY PETERS: No, actually, there are operational improvements. For example, I'm allowing two adjacent runways to be used concurrently, and let me let Nancy -- if you want details

Q Yes, if we could have some details on that.

SECRETARY PETERS: Why don't we have Nancy get back to you, if I might, after, and she can answer that in a great deal of detail, or --

Q Well, I would like that answered now.

Q Have her come up.

Q Nancy, how much of this is new? And have there been --

SECRETARY PETERS: Let me do the lead in for that, and then you answer the specific question. We have been trying and implementing some of these measures in advance of this holiday period, because you don't want to turn everything on and find out it doesn't work on the eve of Thanksgiving. So we've been implementing some of these. But the fact is that we have never before put all of these together. The fact is that we have never had access to these military routes before the onset of the holiday period and before the onset of inclement weather to be able to do that.

The other thing we do -- and I'll ask Nancy to talk a little bit more about this -- we did almost an hour conference call last week with all the airlines and the airports; we asked each one of them what their plans were for the upcoming holiday period -- sufficient staffing; sufficient facilities, all of these things -- we're making sure that we're staffed up. So we're really looking at this holiday period in a much more comprehensive way than we have in the past to make sure that we're prepared.

Now, if we get an ice storm up and down the eastern seaboard, I'm going to tell you, it probably won't be pretty. But we're going to take every precaution we can to make sure that we can handle passengers and handle them well.

Nancy, why don't you take the specific question about operational equipment?

MS. KALINOWSKI: We've been working on new procedures, new routes, new designs. As you all know, we announced the New York airspace redesign on September 5th, and we started the implementation and the planning for the next five years for that implementation. As part of that, we're going to be building (inaudible), or area navigation routes, GPS routes, that are routes in and out of the New York area, and we're also going to have area navigation departure procedures and arrival procedures into the airport.

Those are under development. We have put several of them in, in the last 12 months, that are overlays over current conventional routes, and we're going to be designing -- we have designs for new ones that will take about two years to put into that airspace. Some of them will be delivered next spring. Some of them will be delivered next fall. What we were talking about specifically at JFK were the procedures for arrivals to the 31-left and the 32-right. This summer we worked with the air traffic control community and did training and worked on a new procedure that would allow us to have standard approaches to both of those runways when we have an arrival push that can help us during a bad weather scenario, difficult weather scenario.

Q (Inaudible.)

Q Are those in place, then?

MS. KALINOWSKI: They're in place. They were just put in, in September. So we're using them now.

Q The standard approach, how is that different from what you used to do?

MS. KALINOWSKI: Before we would have an ILS approach -- instrument landing system -- approach to the right runway, and then we would do a visual approach, which allowed us to do that in good weather. It was more of a challenge in bad weather. Now we've actually established the procedure, the pilots all know about it and the air traffic controllers are trained, as well, to do a staggered approach. So we are still using an instrument approach in, but they're staggered so that you have the required separation.

Q So just to be clear, in poor visibility you're only able on the 31s to do one runway at a -- use one runway for arrival.

MS. KALINOWSKI: Previously it was one for arrivals, one for departures. And so now we've increased the capacity and you have a capacity cushion, that's four to six more airplanes per hour arriving.

Q So that it will be simultaneous, but staggered?

MS. KALINOWSKI: Simultaneous, but staggered, so that you have the required separation.

Q (Inaudible).

Q And flight controllers are on board? This does not put a dramatic increase on their workload?

MS. KALINOWSKI: No, they were trained and they've been working it well since September.

Q Could you give us an update on your investigations into market mechanisms like congestion pricing?

SECRETARY PETERS: Certainly. We're proceeding with two efforts to look at more long-term solutions concurrently. One is an aviation rule-making committee, that involves a number of stakeholders -- airlines, airports, other stakeholders that are involved in that. And then concurrent with that we're doing a scheduling meeting.

As part of the scheduling meeting we have determined -- at lease in our initial count -- that we could, instead of the hundred-plus flights that took off per hour during peak period last summer from JFK, we've determined that that number should be more around 80, 81. We're currently in negotiations with the airlines, with Port Authority, to determine what, ultimately, that number will be.

But what I want to do, and what I keep asking our folks to look at is look at market mechanisms. If we can price those take-offs and landings, price the use of that airspace so that we spread the demand out over a different period of time -- perhaps take some of the peak (inaudible) flights out and put them either before or after, we can manage significantly more efficiently. Those of you who live in the Washington, D.C. area -- think August in Washington. Think how much better surface traffic is in Washington here in the month of August. And why is that? Because about 5 percent of the people -- and it only takes that -- about 5 percent of the people are gone and the roadways run more smoothly. That same phenomena can occur in the skies if we can price some people out of the peak periods.

So we're continuing those discussions and hope to have results -- will have results to the President by the end of the month.

Q What if the military needs that space sometime between Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. and Sunday at midnight, number one? And number two, why haven't you done this before?

SECRETARY PETERS: If they need that space, they have it. Military, security --

Q (Inaudible).

SECRETARY PETERS: Well, we just have the controllers pull the planes off of those routes, which they can do. So that if the military or security needs that space, they have that space.

Again, what hasn't been done in the past -- and since I wasn't here in the past, I can't necessarily speak to that always -- but to pre-negotiate this in advance of the holiday period is what's new this time and what will allow us to schedule operations on those flight lanes, instead of using them in the event of an inclement weather or an emergency.

MS. KALINOWSKI: Absolutely true. And I want to make one clarification. We have those routes at 24,000 and above, which is what the airlines need -- that's the altitudes that they're going to be flying at. And you still have all the military security flights taking place below that, it's just that they're not having to use it for the training purposes -- which is why they use it all the time, all during the week.

I wanted to make a clarification. You asked the question about the routes, and at that time I said there were hundreds of routes. Basically, I was thinking about the entire country. Basically you've only got about a dozen generally used routes up and down the East Coast. So my apologies to you all for -- so this extra route off the coast really does make a significant difference in terms of our capacity to handle the traffic up and down the East Coast.

Q A clarification, because you didn't get to finish on JFK earlier. I think Lisa and I were wondering, anything new in regards to some take-off procedures? I thought we had heard there might be something new there? (Inaudible) -- September -- (inaudible) -- it wasn't an runway where you had to kind of hang a quick right or you get into LaGuardia airspace, something like that, opened for take-offs?

Q Thirty-one right.

Q Thirty-one right is a right-hand turn.

Q That's new as well, though, isn't it?

MS. KALINOWSKI: We're working that now.

Q When does that start?

MS. KALINOWSKI: It's in a testing phase right now. I mean, we're in a testing phase. That's something we're going to be working toward implementing. So we're trying to upgrade -- we're trying to address a lot of different issues and a lot of different procedures in the area.

Q But I guess in layman's terms, these two measures, what they do -- they get planes more quickly on the ground and then more quickly off the ground at JFK, but the second one is only in testing.

MS. KALINOWSKI: We do a right turn off the runway, but it is limited to a certain number of aircraft. There is only a certain configuration; some of the larger aircraft can't do it. But we are doing the right turn off of 31-right.

Q And are you testing --

SECRETARY PETERS: I'm going to go to the lady in the back here who's been patiently waiting.

Q While I understand that air traffic congestion needs to be addressed, what about perhaps the greater danger of chemical and liquid products being able to get through airport security and being brought on board a plane?

SECRETARY PETERS: That's actually something that TSA manages, as opposed to us. We certainly are going to have more people on the ground, in the airports -- all of us -- to make sure that we handle things. And that's an important question, because travelers around the Thanksgiving holiday period aren't necessarily the hardened road warriors that are out there every day using this system. We're going to have families, we're going to have children, we're going to have people bringing baby formula and other things on board -- elderly, students -- a lot of people who aren't acclimated to flying as much as a road warrior is.

And that's why FAA has established this website to get a lot of good information out there. The Air Transport Association is, as well, to make sure everyone knows about the liquids that you can bring, what you can't bring, whether you can bring that baby formula or that breast milk on. All of those questions will be answered in advance for people so they don't get to the airport and find a surprise.

Q But if someone has those on their body, and it's not able to be detected by the scanners that people walk through, there's a very real and imminent danger, God forbid, of someone being able to blow up an aircraft.

SECRETARY PETERS: Ma'am, I'll need to refer you to TSA. I know Kip Hawley at TSA would be able to answer that question.

Q Can we talk about the western United States a little bit? You've talked a lot about the congestion on the East Coast. There's plenty of flight delays at places like LAX, Phoenix, Seattle. What is this going to do for West Coast travelers?

SECRETARY PETERS: Here's why we're starting in the New York region. I mean, this is the sore point of all of this. What we have in the New York area right now, 40 percent overall delays and cancellations; nationwide that's 30 percent. But the other important factor is that three-quarters of the flight delays are because the plane went into, out of or through the New York airspace -- three-quarters of the delays nationally. So that's why we're starting in the New York airspace, and working with the airports -- first JFK, but working with the airports in that area.

If we can solve this here -- it's kind of like the old song; if you can solve it here, you can solve it anywhere -- we think we can. But we will migrate these plans out to other places. But I want to emphasize, we're looking at sustainable solutions. We're not looking at something that will just work until we take caps off or something else. We want sustainable solutions, because the amount of demand that we have for air traffic services is a sign of a very strong economy. Lots of people are flying; lots of people can afford to fly. That's great. We don't want to constrain demand. So we're working here first.

Q This holiday season, though, will West Coast travelers, flying from L.A. to San Francisco, will they see any improvement --

SECRETARY PETERS: Oh, ma'am, absolutely. These steps that we're taking, both our agency, the airlines and the airports, this is nationally. Conference call we did last week, we didn't just talk about the New York airspace. We talked about nationally, so we're staffing up, making sure that we have everything in place to prevent delays to the greatest extent we can -- this is happening throughout the United States, so it isn't just in this area.

I think we have one last question.

Q Yes, Secretary Peters, you mentioned Newark. What are the procedures changed there --

SECRETARY PETERS: I don't know. I'm going to ask Nancy about any different procedures at Newark.

MS. KALINOWSKI: One thing that we're looking toward as far the national airspace redesign is dispersal headings -- the southern departures off of Newark. And we're going to be dispersing them -- instead of playing follow the leader just down the river, they're going to be able to disperse to the right during our busiest push times.

Q And that will be in effective immediately?

MS. KALINOWSKI: Oh, no, that is not in effect immediately. That is something that will be coming shortly.

Q One last question. You got interrupted as you were listing what immediate rule-making authority -- could you address that, and could you speak to how long that might take?

SECRETARY PETERS: The first of those is the compensation for bumped passengers. And I said we're moving from what we anticipated doing, back when we talked last in September to a specific proposal right now, which I believe is $400 under two-hour delay and $800 if it's an over two-hour or longer delay. That would be the mandatory amount of compensation, which is significantly more than it is today.

The others are to require the airlines to provide more data to us. You know, for example right now, and some of you noticed this, when you push back from the gate, you're not necessarily counting how much hold time you have on the ground or tarmac delays. We want to start capturing that data so that we know where the specific problems are so that we can deal with the problems.

And the last is the airlines to have plans, have contingency plans, so in the event that they get an ice storm or some other problem, what are they going to do? And it really goes to what the gentleman over here asked about. We believe that the best way to deal with this is have the airlines propose very comprehensive plans to us and not have a one-size-fits-all that may work in Newark but may not work in Atlanta or somewhere else.

Q How long do you anticipate -- how long is the rule-making --

SECRETARY PETERS: The first of those rule-makings will be complete by mid year, by the mid-summer, late summer of this year. That would be the compensation. The other two are going to take a bit longer. But we also are working with the Inspector General's report that I spoke to you all about earlier. He did a very comprehensive investigation, gave me results. I've asked D.J. Gribbin, our General Counsel, to work to start implementing those recommendations in advance even of those rule-makings.

Q If you get this bump in compensation, and you go to congestion pricing, won't the airlines pass these new costs on to their ticket buyers?

SECRETARY PETERS: They will pass some costs on, but the fact is, the customers are paying the price today with lack of reliability, lack of predictability, lack of knowing if they can get there on time.

You know, when I worked in the private sector before I came to this position, people in my company traveled the day before always, because we couldn't count on getting there the same day. That was an enormous price. But the other thing is, as we open up additional capacity, through congestion pricing, prices will even off, we'll see a leveling, so we don't see a long-term increase in prices.

Q If this works does that mean the 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, those holidays -- this likely rule --

SECRETARY PETERS: By next summer, by summer of '08, we want some of these longer-term solutions in effect so it will work us through the entire summer. But certainly when we see peak periods of travel, we're going to respond to that.

MR. STANZEL: We do have -- thank you all -- we do have, on, a fact sheet about this, the President's remarks, the transcript from this briefing, as well as you can go to to get more information about your travels.

END 2:19 P.M. EST