More than 1 billion people a year will be boarding planes in the
United States within a decade, nearly half again as many as
those now using an aviation system showing signs of being
The Federal Aviation Administration, which released the
forecast Thursday, faces spending cuts for runways, air traffic
control equipment and buildings. But the agency’s administrator,
Marion Blakey, said she was
confident there would be enough money to accommodate the
dramatic growth in air traffic.
‘‘We are redesigning airspace, deploying new software that
will help increase capacity, and putting new procedures in
place,’’ Blakey said. ‘‘We will be ready.’’
Lawmakers and aviation advocates were not so sure.
Building is not keeping up with the increase in passengers,
said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association.
‘‘That just spells congestion and delays for passengers.’’
Already, flights have been limited at Chicago’s O’Hare
International Airport because too many planes were trying to
take off and land, causing delays throughout the country. The
FAA negotiated an agreement with airlines to cut 37 daily
flights and limit the number of domestic arrivals to 88 an hour
between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.
Ruth Marlin, executive vice president of the air traffic
controllers union, said many passengers will do a lot of waiting
in 2015 if things do not change.
‘‘The FAA is trying to do more and more with less and less
and that is putting an incredible strain on the system,’’ she
Sen. Christopher Bond, chairman of the Senate Appropriations
subcommittee that oversees transportation spending, has
expressed disappointment in the Bush administration’s budget
proposal for 2006. It would cut money for airport construction
and runways by $500 million next year, to $3 billion.
‘‘I am at a loss to understand why this program remains in
the sights of the budget gnomes,’’ Bond, R-Mo., said at a
hearing this week.
Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the subcommittee,
pointed out the administration has proposed $77 million in cuts
for air traffic control modernization, in addition to $400
million cut this year. In 2004, the FAA was authorized to spend
‘‘All indications are that air traffic will continue to
grow,’’ said Murray, D-Wash. ‘‘Yet the Bush administration has
decided that now is the time to impose dramatic cuts in our
investment at improving safety and expanding capacity at our
David Plavin, president of the Airports Council
International-North America, said the problem is not just the
increase in passenger traffic, but that planes are getting
smaller. Small planes place just as much a burden on the air
traffic system as large planes.
‘‘FAA is chronically underfunded,’’ said Plavin, whose group
represents airports. ‘‘Some air traffic control towers are
But Blakey said the dollars for airport runways and buildings
would still be twice what it was in the late 1990s, when
airports received about $1.5 billion. In September, she said,
the FAA assessed airport authorities capital needs and found
they were 15 percent lower than the year before.
The FAA, which forecast a 45 percent passenger increase by
2015, also said:
Traditional big airlines such as United and American will
grow at a sluggish pace, with the number of passengers
increasing by 2.8 percent annually over the next 12 years.
Regional carriers, which fly planes with 70 or fewer seats,
and international travel will fuel the increase in commercial
The number of passengers on regional airlines will increase
15.4 percent next year.
The number of passengers flying to and from the United States
on domestic airlines will increase an average of 5 percent
annually over the next 12 years.
A Web graphic showing estimated passenger loads is available
Federal Aviation Administration:
Airports Council International-North America:
National Air Traffic Controllers Association: