December 08, 2000 Chicago Tribune


Rod Stewart December 8, 2000

FOSTER CITY, Calif. -- As an air-traffic controller, commercial pilot and avid traveler, I take exception to the recent editorial stance, taken by many of our nation's media, blaming lack of runways for our terrible flight-delay problems. One leading paper even stated the "skies are virtually limitless..." implying that all that's lacking is enough pavement to get 'em up into it.

In spite of aviation industry propaganda, safety (and physics) requires each aircraft to operate in its own separate piece of sky.

Just scheduling 10 flights to depart at 8 a.m. won't produce enough sky to do so.

The bigger and faster the planes get, the bigger the airspace required, and having two or more in the same piece of sky at the same time is a big problem.

Building more runways in saturated urban airspace is not the key. Enlarging the San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose airports in California, for example, will not manufacture more sky over San Francisco Bay for the resulting increased flights to pass over, under and around each other.

Just trying to cram more planes into an area will not solve flight delays; it will make them worse--especially as increased use of bigger planes and the proposed ultra-large new aircraft take to the sky.

Delays stem from the government-sponsored inefficient use of our resources by a disjointed transportation system, driven by the industry's (including airports') profit motives that best serve only themselves, not the traveling public. As evidence, consider the hub system, bizarre fare structures and overbooking. (How many other businesses are allowed by law to sell the same item to more than one buyer?)

This country is allowing the aviation industry a monopoly on intercity mass transit as we did with the automobile for intracity transport.

We once thought that paving over our land, making room for more cars on more freeways, would end traffic delays on our roads. Those who would profit promoted this idea at the expense of other methods of travel that would reduce demand for space on the roads (and their products).

Well the concrete has dried, and here we sit in gridlocked smog clouds, wishing we had a transportation system we could use to get to work.

Much of the media coverage would suggest the same tactic could work for delays in our skies. I suggest we take a lesson from history and rethink our position.