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FAA Predicts Air Travel Woes Will Continue

Those air travelers who experienced lengthy delays, missed connections and lost baggage this summer wonít be reassured by the statistics and predictions emanating from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

According to an MSNBC report, the FAA is predicting 1 billion passengers a year by 2015, a 36 percent increase over current numbers. The horror stories of the first half of 2007, when more than 909,000 flights were late through June (twice the level of 2002), could become an everyday reality in the next eight years. The cost to the American economy is estimated at $22 billion a year.

The carriers are well aware that their commitments to travelers are often impossible to keep, but they make them anyway because they like to give passengers what they want. And everyone prefers to fly in the morning or early evening so they can get in a day of work or play on the day they fly. "We don't schedule flights at one o'clock in the morning because people don't want to travel at that time," says Peter McDonald, chief operating officer of UAL Corp.

But the consequence of giving customers an unrealistically high number of flight options is that a weather delay at a key airport such as New York's La Guardia, Chicago's O'Hare International, or Dallas-Fort Worth International can have a cascading effect on the entire system. "You can't physically get these airplanes out," says Barrett Byrne's, a controller at JFK, who says there was a 4 1/2 -mile long taxi line at the airport on the night of Aug. 22, 2007. "It just backs up into the next hour and gets worse and worse until you have a dysfunctional parking lot."

Congress is debating an FAA reauthorization bill this fall, but must decide whether to extend the current tax structure or make substantial reforms to the nationís air traffic system and how it is financed. Various aviation interests have argued over who should pay a larger share of the cost of modernizing the aviation system, and the administration has pushed for eliminating the airline ticket tax for a new per-flight user fee.