FAA Pushes Florida Airport to Increase Flights
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Getting to destinations can be challenging, as anyone who's spent time waiting for a delayed plane knows very well. Frequent fliers know which airports are prone to backups: Chicago's O'Hare, San Francisco. But Ft. Lauderdale? It may be surprising, but Ft. Lauderdale is one of the most delay-prone airports in the country. And as NPR's Luke Burbank reports, there's little agreement between the FAA and local officials about how to fix that.
LUKE BURBANK reporting:
First, the good news: Ft. Lauderdale International Airport is often cited as one of the better airports to be stuck at. There are good restaurants, it's clean, and free wireless Internet flows throughout the facility. Now the bad news: If you use Ft. Lauderdale, there's a good chance you'll have plenty of time to explore those amenities. According to the US Department of Transportation, as of last spring, Ft. Lauderdale was the third-worst US airport for on-time arrivals. One of the most consistently delayed routes is the New York run, and a recent flight didn't disappoint.
Unidentified Woman: Once again, welcome aboard. And this is Spirit Airlines Flight number 174, non-stop service to New York City's La Guardia.
Unidentified Man: It's about 2:00. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:30, so we're about a half-hour late. They say we're going to make it up in the air, but they always say that.
Ms. KATHLEEN BERGEN (FAA): During March of this year, delays were greater at Ft. Lauderdale than at any of the other 35 major airports in the United States.
BURBANK: Kathleen Bergen is a spokesperson with the FAA's Southern Region. The agency says the problem is that the airport is only using one of its two runways available for large jets. But the Broward County Commission, which runs the airport, says it wants to keep it that way because using the other diagonal runway, a holdover from when the airport was a military base, would increase noise and ruin property values.
Mr. JOHN RODSTROM (County Commissioner): I think they feel betrayed.
BURBANK: John Rodstrom is a county commissioner, whose district would be affected by using the other runway.
Mr. RODSTROM: And all of a sudden now the FAA, without notice--suddenly the FAA says, `We're going to start using this runway when we've never used it before in ways we've never used it before.' I think it's really chilling for these people who live around that airport.
BURBANK: But no airport is an island, according to the FAA. It says that a morning delay at Ft. Lauderdale can ripple through the system of airports around the country, leading to people missing a connection that evening in Seattle, sort of the love child of chaos theory and aggravation.
Ms. BERGEN: You know, flights operate largely on a hub-and-spoke system. You know, flights are backed up in Ft. Lauderdale and can't get to their hubs, the passengers are delayed, and those planes then are not available to be used on their follow-up leg of their flights.
BURBANK: Ft. Lauderdale International was once a sleepy little airport, but by charging low landing fees, it's attracted big business from discount carriers like Southwest and JetBlue. But long delays do not a happy passenger make, and so at the insistence of the airlines, the FAA has now ordered the airport to start landing planes on that diagonal runway during busy periods. The County Commission wants nothing to do with that idea and says it'll go to court if necessary to block it. Luke Burbank, NPR News, Miami.
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