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Forecast for Unfriendly Skies

While the debate surrounding surface transportation authorization commands most of the recent transportation news, there’s another serious authorization debate taking place on Capitol Hill: FAA reauthorization.

And the debate couldn’t come at a better time. Recent research found that the average air travel arrival delay grew from just over 40 minutes in 1990 to nearly 57 minutes in the most recent twelve month period. Part of this is due to the growth in delays over two hours: They’ve more than doubled since 1990.

Just as importantly, these delays don’t occur in a locational vacuum. Rather, the largest share of delays, especially the longest ones, occur in 26 metropolitan-wide hubs, the nation’s centers of air travel.

In an increasingly globalizing economy, the ability to efficiently connect to major metropolitan hubs and international destinations is critical for our long term economic health and competitiveness.

Congress has an excellent opportunity to aid those metropolitan hubs and improve national performance. Whether raising Passenger Facility Charges in the highest-trafficked airports to implementing new technologies, better policies have the potential to create a more punctual and well-connected flying experience.

One side effect of the current recession is an associated drop in flights and travel delays. When the economy rebounds and travel levels resume their rise, we should need to have the policy tools to manage that growth.