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New FAA Restriction Will Lengthen Flight Delays - (8/9/2005)

WASHINGTON - Just days after the head of the Federal Aviation Administration told reporters that bad weather, crowded flights and a lack of pavement at critical airports caused record delays in July, the agency has announced it will implement a bizarre new restriction that will greatly exacerbate flight delays. The restriction will end the practice of allowing aircraft to hold on the runway, awaiting takeoff clearance and, in the process, the FAA is unnecessarily forcing its tower personnel to scramble to meet a Sept. 30 deadline to show why their tower should continue using the longstanding practice that maximizes runway efficiency.

The practice, known as taxi into position and hold (TIPH), enables controllers to safely and efficiently move aircraft by instructing pilots to assume takeoff position on the runway. The restriction will force aircraft to wait unnecessarily on the taxiway and the result will be a backup of planes and a dramatic decrease in airport capacity.

Rather than examine the specifics at each airport to see if changes are needed, the FAA will suspend the practice at all airports unless the tower manager can demonstrate that it is needed. Air traffic controllers are deeply concerned about both the adverse effect it will have on efficiency and the wasteful expenditure of resources by the FAA to force facilities into compliance or to seek waivers.

"These towers now have to jump through hoops to do on Oct. 1 what they've done quite successfully for the last 50-plus years," National Air Traffic Controllers Association President John Carr said. "While the FAA asserts this is to improve runway safety, the likely outcome is that busy airports will eventually get waivers, leaving the real safety concerns unaddressed, while other airports will operate under unnecessary restrictions. Pilots will have no effective way of knowing where this rule is in effect and where it has been waived, and the FAA will have expended untold resources to create the appearance of safety management without doing anything that actually enhances the safety of the system.”

Ending TIPH at busy airports is likely to have severe consequences, according to controllers. At Washington Dulles, capacity would fall by at least 30 percent, resulting in major delays. At Oakland, Calif., more than 50 percent of departures would experience delays.

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