On USDOT's "Air 21" idiocy

December 9, 2000
By Peter Samuel

On USDOT’s “Air 21” idiocy

Originally published in issue 52 of Tollroads Newsletter, which came out in Nov 2000.

Page:23

Subjects:air landing slots

Agencies:USDOT

Sources:DeCota Kelleher Bethune

Under the affable but shallow Sec Rodney Slater USDOT has been much high level gush and happy talk with others left to clean up the mess. Example: under lots of hype surrounding “Air 21” USDOT declared the rationing of landing/takeoff timeslots at airports “unnecessary” and ordered them ended last summer without authorizing any substitute mechanisms such as varied charges to help managers match supply and demand. The quite predictable result at a chronically overloaded place like New York City’s close-in airport LaGuardia was stacked up planes, gridlock on the taxiways, record delays and general chaos for air-travelers through this fall. (Fortunately no air-crashes.) USDOT officials were reduced to begging airlines to unilaterally withdraw flights. The manager of New York area airports the Port Authority’s William DeCota summed it up nicely: “We moved from one irrational system to another irrational system.” (WSJ 4/12/00 p1)

Continental Airlines CEO Gordon Bethune said he told Slater he resented being told by bureaucrats that his airline was scheduling too many flights: “You know it is a bit like telling Mozart that there are too many notes in an opera. Which ones do you want us to take out?” (FORTUNE 11/13/00 p238)

Herbert Kelleher CEO of Southwestern Airlines said USDOT reminded him of a Soviet central planning office with bureaucrats telling the airlines: “Vell zere are too many people flying. (Vee vill limit zee flights.)”

But after some months of this nonsense with no management system whatever in place a presidential executive order was issued Dec 5 directing USDOT to “review the statutory and regulatory impediments to the use of airport congestion pricing and other market mechanisms to provide for more efficient use of existing runway capacity and encourage the creation of new capacity.”

Out of mindless chaos can come good! Eventually.

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