Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Austin Statesman takes on airport overcrowding

Some of these guys in Texas are darned smart. Take, for example, the editorial board at the Austin Statesman. They are thinking seriously about the major transport issues which have recently become more apparent, and not taking the standard cliche answers.

The airlines are pushing Congress to start shopping for remedies. One would be replacing 50-year-old analog radar technology with more efficient, more accurate global positioning technology. That multibillion-dollar advance would allow more planes in the air at a time because controllers would have more precise information on where planes are, meaning they could fly closer together. That would translate to more efficient use of air space.

The question, of course, is who pays. The airlines want corporate and private airplane owners to step up and pay a bigger share. Congress needs to act on this quickly, because demand for air space will only increase over the next decade. More than 1 billion passengers will be demanding space on domestic flights over the next 10 years — a 33 percent increase over today.

Every time a new low-cost airline spreads its wings, the more demand on airport space, the more competition for pilots and the more work for controllers. And we haven’t even mentioned baggage handlers yet.

During the first six months of 2007, the number of mishandled baggage items rose 25 percent and the number of complaints increased nearly 50 percent, the worst since the federal government started keeping those statistics in 1995.

Putting more teeth into the airline passengers bill of rights is something else Congress can do. But realistically, an overhaul that will encompass space, labor and air traffic management issues is only a start.

A really ambitious project would be financing high speed rail alternatives to air travel along popular routes to lighten the demand for passenger planes.

This isn’t just a matter of comfort or convenience, either. The overloaded system also has a price tag: Delays cost almost $10 billion a year in lost employee productivity, jet fuel and just plain wasted time.

Congress has got to start somewhere, and the sooner the better. Sorry to cut this short, but we’ve got a flight to catch.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

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