STATEMENT BY REP. MALONEY ON LAGUARDIA, SUBCOMM. ON AVIATION HEARING
December 5, 2000
Good Afternoon Chairman Duncan, Ranking Member Lipinski, and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for this opportunity.
I asked to testify this afternoon because the flight scheduling situation at LaGuardia Airport has become unmanageable, resulting in massive delays and creating a safety hazard. While not an ideal solution, I am supportive of the FAA slot lottery as a stopgap answer to this escalating problem.
As you know, congestion today at LaGuardia Airport has reached crisis level. In recent months, as many as a quarter of all the delays recorded in the U.S. have occurred at LaGuardia. With some flights spending more time on the tarmac at LaGuardia than in the air, the resulting delays cause ripple effects across the country as planes stack up coming in and out of New York and as travelers miss connections around the nation.
Numerous press accounts have described LaGuardia travel nightmares for tourists and business travelers. On November 27, ground delays at the airport were as high as six hours. A story in today's Los Angeles Times skews the airport with the headline "Welcome to LaGuardia, Enjoy Your Stay." I have already heard anecdotal evidence from business travelers who are avoiding LaGuardia and undoubtedly the airport's infamy will soon dissuade tourists from visiting the city as well.
While LaGuardia has always been busy, the airport has experienced a sudden increase in flights because of the unexpectedly large number of new scheduled flights this year. The consequences of this new schedule have been to utterly disrupt normal airport operations and to increase safety concerns. With the number of takeoffs and landings often squeezed to over 90 an hour, LaGuardia's two intersecting runways and the people who manage them are being pushed to the limit.
There are no more peaks and valleys in the air traffic at LaGuardia. Airport workers are faced with a high stress, packed schedule from early in the morning to late in the day. The resulting strain on facilities and people is creating an increased safety concern for travelers and the community on even the best weather days.
When Congress passed Air-21, HDR limits were preserved at LaGuardia to guard against this very overcrowding. Many in Congress advocated no limits at all. As a frequent user of LaGuardia I can tell you that even before Air-21 delays were frequent on good weather days. The exception for regional jets was included to provide needed flights to underserved airports but the resulting schedule has far exceeded what Congress anticipated. The airlines can schedule as many flights as they want, but this tiny airport bordered by water and with intersecting runways, can only handle so much traffic.
While the law allowed for additional regional jets, nothing in the law trumps the FAA's obligation to preserve the safety of air travel. Given this context, I believe yesterday's slot lottery was necessary and appropriate.
Air travel in the New York area should be provided in a safe and reliable manner. The city eagerly invites tourists and business travelers. Long-term solutions to the problem will likely see flights shifted to other regional airports. For the time being, something had to be done and I believe the FAA action was the fairest approach.