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Officials: Summer travel a challenge

Published May 14, 2008 10:09 am

If carriers could use military airspace, delays would lessen, CEO says
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

WASHINGTON - Airline flight delays, which are expected to increase this summer, could be significantly cut if commercial carriers were allowed to use military airspace over Arizona and southern Nevada, an industry official said Tuesday.

The federal government allowed commercial jets to traverse some of the restricted areas near Utah around Christmas to battle delays, and doing so again would help keep planes on time, according to James C. May, President and CEO of the Air Transport Association, which represents nearly all domestic carriers.

"There's a fair amount of space that is military-controlled airspace," May said at a Washington news conference. "During some weather conditions, if we can get through that space, it improves our times in and out of the Los Angeles area, San DiegoÂ, Long Beach, and so forth," in the end helping improve the whole air transit system.

"If you look at the map and you look at the geography, there's an awful lot of military airspace out there," added Greg Principato, director of the Airports Council International-North America. He thinks efforts to open up that space during the holidays helped alleviate congestion and would have a similar impact this summer.

The Federal Aviation Administration, in conjunction with the U.S. military, has opened up some military-controlled airspace along the Eastern Seaboard to help cut down on congestion, but key areas in the West are also needed to keep traffic jams to a minimum, the two officials said.

May and Principato on Tuesday also warned travelers to expect delays this summer, despite the best efforts of their two organizations.

"We're going to face a challenging summer this year," May said, later adding, "It is our expectation that we will improve over last year on delays" but that every day cannot be as nice as the 70 degree, sunny weather in Washington on Tuesday.

Principato said his organization will be working with smaller, regional airports such as many of those in Utah that sometimes feel the end result of delays at major hubs.

"Often the folks who really feel the pinch are people in smaller towns who worry that they're not going to be able to get to the bigger city they're trying to go to," he said.

Both men expressed their industry's hope that there won't be long delays this summer, especially the kind where passengers board planes only to get stuck for hours on tarmacs. May noted that with airlines likely to spend $60 billion on jet fuel this year alone, they are in no mood to waste fuel on ground delays.

"We hate delays. We want to do everything we can to cure them," he said.

tburr@sltrib.com