Thursday, January 24, 2008

Math and Airline Delays

I hate to fly. Between the inconsistent and arrogant members of the TSA, and the constantly crowded ticket lines, flying is something to be avoided at all costs. Only on trips to places like Japan or cross-country will i force myself to actually take an airplane. In most cases, I prefer to drive, even if the distance is long.

Today, retired air traffic controller Don Brown has written on his blog Get the Flick an excellent discussion of the reasons for the massive airline delays that we so often encounter. Among other things, Brown explains that a runway has a finite limit of how many planes it can handle in an hour. Bwrown sets this number - in completely optimal circumstances - as sixty. He then goes on to write,
The reason is as old as it is simple -- greed. Airlines can make more money selling 70 airplanes worth of tickets per hour than they could if they limited themselves to the 60 airplanes per hour that the runway can handle. In fairness to the airlines, it’s not in their interest to limit themselves. It is easier to sell the tickets and blame the delays on the weather or the “antiquated” air traffic control system. Especially if the flying public doesn’t understand runway capacity limits and therefore fails to notice that the “antiquated” air traffic control system is delivering more airplanes to the runways than the runways can handle.

It seems to me this is perfectly logical. Safety should indeed be the primary determiner of how many flights are allowed to be scheduled in any given period of time. And airlines should be forced to scheduled accordingly. Brown says that the FAA does have the legal authority to regulate this and if so, then they must be forceed to use that authority. Although i am normally a small-government man, in cases like this, a decrease in the over-selling of airline tickets might lead to a reduction of irritation among passengers and perhaps renew the nation's joy of air travel- something that has become sadly faded in recent years.

Hat tip to James Fallows via Glenn Reynolds.

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