Saturday, September 29, 2007

Crowded Skies

On Saturday, September 23rd, I flew home from Columbus, Ohio on Southwest Airlines via Chicago's O'Hare Airport where I changed planes arriving in Portland, Oregon around 11 a.m. I didn't experience any delays or problems on September 23rd, nor did I experience any delays or problems on September 11th flying out of PDX on Southwest Airlines to San Jose, California. I had an enjoyable flight both days.

Delays and problems with the air transportation system have been plaguing the news media in the last few months so when I turned on C-Span on September 28 to watch the Senate, my interest heightened when testimony was being given about this very issue. According to testimony, we seem to be at a crossroads in the aviation transportation industry.

First to give critical testimony was Patrick Forrey, the President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association speaking for only six minutes. My first concern is why was his time limited to only six minutes when this is a potential critical issue for air transportation and public safety? Why were other experts giving testimony limited to only a few minutes, especially when I often turn onto C-Span only to find classical music playing with no debate on the floor of the House or Senate?

Mr. Forrey gave important testimony stating that "controller fatigue rates are increasing at a frightening level as air traffic continues to grow." He said there are 1,100 fewer certified air traffic controllers than the infamous 9-11 and yet delays have increased 150% with identical traffic. Working record amounts of hours under high stress and under-staffed conditions, three air traffic controllers are leaving every day and 70% of the current work force will retire in five years.

Jim May, Air Transport Association President and CEO wants to increase low altitude and departure routes out of major hubs and says that the 72% delay rates that exist now are not acceptable. Listed across the bottom of the C-Span screen as Mr. May was speaking was the factoid that there has been a 20% increase in air traffic in 2006. He said that the air transportation industry will move a billion passengers a year in the next five years. There will be 760 million passengers that fly in 2007.

Air traffic controllers say that "demand exceeds capacity." Mr. Forrey said, "airline schedules are often out of line with reality." The example given was if 10 aircraft can leave in a fifteen minute period, why are more than 10 scheduled to leave in this time period causing backups and delays?

Steve Brown, the Senior Vice President of the National Business Aviation Association talked about JFK having enough capacity in the early morning hours for 44 departures but 57 are scheduled creating a "conga line" on the runways of aircraft waiting to depart causing a backup of jets in the air that are forced to circle the airspace until they are given the permission to land. Mr. Brown says the U.S. Department of Transportation lists weather and commercial airlines scheduling practice as responsible for delays. He said that most business travelers avoid major airport hubs so they aren't responsible for delays.

So I'm wondering as I listen to this testimony what is going to fill the need with 70% of the air traffic controllers retiring in five years and the critical need to expand service? Mr. Brown was the first to mention ADSB or the Automatic Dependent Surveillance System which is viewed as the "cornerstone of modernization" for the future. But can computers acequately handle emergencies? The ADSB can only work as a tool used by experienced air traffic controllers, in my opinion.

Patrick Forrey, the President of the NATCA mentioned the three hours of lost communications at the Memphis Traffic Control Center covering an eight state area recently with over 1,000 flights in the air space. The experienced air traffic controllers ignored the FAA ban to use cell phones and used them to safely direct air traffic during this critical three hour period.

I didn't experience any problems or delays on Southwest Airlines. I had a great time and enjoyed my flights.

I question whether smaller airports are being utilized to their potential after listening to this testimony and after my own experience this month. Salem, Oregon has only one airlines flying into the airport to provide needed service. In the past, it used to be a busy airport. Now only Delta flies into Salem. Why? Everyone in Oregon shouldn't have to be shuttled to Portland to fly out of Oregon. Why isn't the Corvallis airport utilized by regional and smaller commercial airlines? Why aren't there more flights out of Eugene and Salem? I wonder what airlines are flying out of Medford and Bend?

If the airlines are overscheduling for profit which threatens public air safety, why aren't they fined and held accountable?

These issues peak my interest but I trust solutions will continue to be found as air transportation continues to be the safest means of transportation.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Road Trip

I'm excited to travel this week. My youngest son, Daniel is flying me down to San Jose today out of PDX on Southwest to start the trip of a lifetime. I feel privileged to have been asked to spend the time with him driving to Ohio. I always say that spending time with my family is the most precious gift.

There isn't anyone better than Daniel. He starts a new job in Columbus, Ohio on Wednesday morning at Battelle and will be working on his MBA at Ohio State University starting this fall. He has worked for 6 years with Battelle in Mountainview, California and Corvallis, Oregon. Daniel deserves the very best in life and I'm so proud of him. He's the BEST person I know.

I fly back to PDX on Southwest next Wednesday. It's going to be a great adventure.


Here's a photo of the last time our family got together on the weekend of August 24 and 25. Let me introduce you--starting at the left is Chris--my son-in-law, Gretchen--my daughter holding LizzyBeth, my granddaughter. Then comes Benjamin, my son from Seattle and his wife, my daughter-in-law--Amanda who is holding Jack--my grandson. Then comes me and my husband--Leslie on the far right. In the background is Chris and Gretchen's new Jeep that is pulling their travel trailer that was in our driveway for the night. It sure is fun getting together and I look forward to the next time. Les is 200% better now.
Chris just lost over 80 pounds with LA Weight Loss. Gretchen dropped down to a size 6 and 8 by following the program too. I'm proud of both of them. It's not easy to lose weight. They look healthy and have added years to their life. Now they eat differently and look for opportunities to enjoy the outdoors together as a family.
It sure was fun seeing Ben and Amanda too from Seattle. Of course, I always love playing Canasta and winning but I didn't this time. A big loss to Ben. I'll have to wait for the next time.