GA in New York: Let's Not Roll Over
Now this one hardly adds up at all. Pixeling across the screen this afternoon comes a press release from AOPA noting that general aviation pilots are happy to help with congestion in the New York area. The comment was made by AOPA Prez Craig Fuller at a meeting in Queens to discuss changes to reduce congestion in the New York area.
Although I applaud the sentiment, I certainly don't buy the premise that enough GA airplanes are filing Newark, Kennedy or LaGuardia as destinations to make much of a dent in the overall traffic volume. I'll concede that I'm biased toward smaller aircraft—singles, light and medium twins and single-engine turboprops. When I was flying regularly in the New York area, there were plenty of them on the frequency in New York airspace, but rarely going into the three major airports. Maybe I was just tuning out the dozens of Gulfstreams and Citations on final to JFK.
In the early 1990s, I flew Part 135 charters in that area and some people were actually willing to pay nearly $1000 to be flown from Hartford to New York to catch an international flight. The peak-hour landing fee then was $125 and it appears that it still is. Off peak, it's $25, plus whatever the FBO nicks you for. The idea of congestion-based pricing is being touted as a new one, but I recall the Port Authority doing this 20 years ago.
This gets to the philosophical question of whether an airport authority should charge higher peak-hour landing fees as a means of reducing congestion. Call me a raving socialist, but I think airports can and should do this, within reason. (Unfortunately, reason and commonsense are rarely used in the same sentence these days.) It's one thing to make fees entirely exclusionary, quite another to use them to level volume to reduce delays for all.
I wouldn't hesitate to fly into any of the New York airports (or Miami) to pick up or drop off an airline passenger, but I wouldn't do it during peak hours. The airports just don't have the capacity for that because of the bizarre way the airlines schedule their flights. The peaks and valleys in traffic used to be gentle sine curves, now they're more like a profile view of the Rockies. At the pointy end of a peak, you're looking at being number 43 for takeoff.
Last year, I was on a flight from JFK to Tampa. The airplane blocked out on time, wobbled to the taxiway and two hours later, it took off. The time to taxi was only five minutes shorter than the entire flight. It was easy to see the problem. In the conga line on the opposite taxiway to the same runway, I counted about 25 airplanes. It went something like this: 737/Airbus/RJ/RJ/757/RJ/RJ/RJ/747/RJ…and so on.
The regional jet explosion is in fact causing some if not all of the congestion problem that GA is sometimes blamed for, at least on the ground. RJs carry more than Gulfstreams and Cessnas do, true, but there are also a hell of a lot more of them. The FAA and airport authorities have proposed landing fee structures that would reduce landing tariffs for airlines who are willing to use fewer but larger airplanes, thus maybe knocking every third RJ out of the conga line. Nice idea, but I'm not sure I see how it can work.
The flying public wants RJs because they provide speedy, efficient service to markets that heretofore had none. Furthermore, although passengers like to complain about waiting two hours in a departure queue—me included—they don't want to wait four hours for a connecting flight. (Me again, but I'm willing to negotiate.)
Fuller told the meeting that GA activity is down some 40 percent in the New York area and if that hasn't reduced what minor contributions GA makes to congestion, is the next step a new class of airspace that bans anything carrying fewer than 150 people? (Just kidding about that, but you get my drift.)
I guess I'm saying that we as the GA community shouldn't be too quick to take the blame for that which we did not cause. And yeah, I get the appearances thing.