overall improvements in the safety and environmental compatibility of air transportation, however, must be examined before concluding that the SATS concept is a desirable outcome.

In this chapter, the following four aviation challenges are reviewed: alleviating congestion and delay in commercial air transportation, improving small-community access to air transportation service, enhancing aviation safety, and ensuring aviation’s environmental compatibility. This information is used in Chapters 4 and 5 to analyze the SATS concept.


While ensuring security is the foremost challenge facing the aviation sector, the efficient use and allocation of the nation’s airspace and airport capacity remain as long-term public policy imperatives. During the past decade, flight delays caused by system congestion and other factors have been a chronic source of frustration and cost for air travelers and the aviation industry. Delays are the most common passenger complaint received by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), accounting for about 40 percent.1 According to DOT’s Inspector General, roughly one flight in four in 2000 was delayed, canceled, or diverted for reasons ranging from airport and airway congestion to severe weather and aircraft mechanical problems (DOT 2000). More than 1.3 million flights arrived late at their destinations—52 minutes late on average—adversely affecting about 160 million passengers. FAA and the Air Transport Association, which represents major airlines, estimate that airlines and their passengers incurred more than $5 billion in delay-related costs.2

Recurrent delays and the unpredictability of schedules in the commercial aviation system are major problems for airlines and air travelers. The growing popularity of business jets and the introduction of fractional ownership programs are attributable in part to the desire of some travelers to obtain more reliable service and, in some cases, to avoid the crowds and congestion at major airports. Whereas the incidence of delay varies by individual airport, city, and region of the country, delays in one location can have effects that cascade throughout the entire system, since aircraft and passenger flows are interconnected. Understanding the causes of delay is complicated because of the large number of possible causes and the interconnectivity of the system; nevertheless, such an understanding is essential for devising solutions.

Tracking the Incidence, Severity, and Source of Delays

To monitor the performance of its air traffic management system, FAA collects data on flight delays through its Operations Network (OPSNET). FAA personnel manually record aircraft that are delayed for 15 minutes or more relative to their planned flight times3 after coming under FAA’s air traffic control (for instance, once the pilot has requested FAA clearance to taxi out for departure). Delays are recorded for arrival, departure, and en route operations; delays attributable to an airline’s own


DOT Air Travel Consumer Report, available on DOT’s website (www.dot.gov/airconsumer).


See DOT’s Audit Report (DOT 2000) and the Air Transport Association’s website (www.air-transport.org).


That is, relative to airline flight plan times with FAA, which may differ from the times listed in published schedules.

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