News Article: Airports Develop Plans For Diversions, Tarmac Delays
Take a strong consumer advocate with a substantial voter/consumer base, add an airline industry with a less-than-responsive record, throw in an incident with bad facts and stir with a Senator/Congressman with a sharp legislative pen → an ill considered bill. Congress deserves credit for trying to address this difficult consumer problem, but the solution selected, compelling all airports to establish and submit plans for a myriad of potential contingencies is unrealistic. As described by Debbie McElroy, James Crites and Tony Caruso, Jr. in the attached article, it is not that easy to plan for all of the possibilities.
While an airport may have the runway length and strength to handle a wide body airplane, the existing schedule of flights may not include such equipment and thus the facility is not prepared to respond to such a demand. A flight arriving after a long journey may need to feed its passengers and the alternate airport may not have any kitchens available. The variables are as numerous as the range of aircraft that are in the fleet multiplied by the potential needs of the customers.
The contingency plans require each airport to list options for facilities and equipment to handle diversions. In the event the airport fails to provide what is listed in their plan, they are subject to the rather healthy fines. The diversion capacity will still be driven by the facility and equipment limitations documented in the plan. When the system diverts aircraft exceeding the limit, the outcome will still be tarmac delays. If 28 aircraft are going to be diverted to one airport, then there has to be multiple locations to deplane the aircraft within the 3 hour limit. Otherwise, allowing for 15 minutes to deplane 28 aircraft one at a time will require 7 hours (Hartford). The fix is not to send 28 aircraft to a facility incapable of providing multiple deplaning options. Therefore, for the diversion contingency plans to be effective, there needs to be a diversion limit assigned to each airport based on submitted plans and controlled by Air traffic.
Pause for a moment, instead of passing this superficially appealing bill, examine reality and a more workable approach might make sense. For example, Congress enacted 30 years ago a bill which mandates a National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems and that provides a tool to look at the problem. In that document and in other FAA planning policies, certain airports are designated as alternates to major hubs. Building on those existing papers and requesting the airports to establish with their airlines an alliance with alternate runways in the area could reduce the math from the broad range of equipment and the almost infinite concomitant requirements of their passengers to a manageable KNOWN set of aircraft types and consumer needs. The relationship could identify, on an on-going basis, the specific types of equipment (tugs, stairs, fuel trucks, etc.), passenger facilities (kitchens, Customs and Border personnel, etc.) and potential hours. Having limited the parameters and created an on-going mechanism to adjust to changes, the assignment goes from impossible to manageable.
Congress look at the messy responses that will be filed on May 14, reconsider your bill, rewrite it and allow the government to adjust to the practical exigencies of these situations through the rule-making process.Share this article: