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READIER FOR TAKEOFF



Published: Tue, June 12, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Washington Post: Are air travelers in for a stress-test sequel to last summer's worst-ever flight delays? Stand by, as they say, that information is still up in the air. Federal Aviation Administration officials say they are hopeful that this year will be better for a number of reasons, including improvements at the air traffic command center in Virginia. One source of considerable disruption last year is gone: a United Airlines labor dispute that led to an exceptional number of cancellations and delays. Gone, too, according to airline officials, are many corporate passengers, as companies curb spending in uncertain economic times. Some airlines report declines in leisure travelers as well, some of it attributed to worries -- unwarranted -- about foot and mouth disease in Europe.

Beyond this summer, the FAA is forecasting an average annual increase in passenger boardings of 3.6 percent over the period between last year and 2012. Industry officials say that even with major technological advances -- outlined in an FAA 10-year air traffic control modernization plan announced last week -- aircraft congestion will remain a serious problem, and more runways and terminal expansions will be needed.

Flight schedules: More thought, too, ought to be given to more-immediate measures, including marketing techniques aimed at changing flight schedules and adjusting traffic jams during peak hours. This could include imposing higher landing fees or establishing slots for peak-hour takeoffs and landings, similar to a slot lottery ordered earlier this year by the FAA at New York's LaGuardia Airport. This temporary measure, set to run until mid-September, could lead to a permanent system. FAA Administrator Jane Garvey is quoted in Jane's Airport Review as noting that initial results of the LaGuardia program show operations "running much better, except, of course, on severe weather days."

Some proponents of such a system support awarding slots to the highest bidders, which might encourage larger aircraft and discourage general aviation traffic during peak hours. Airline officials opposed to the idea say "congestion pricing" would not affect travel habits or airline scheduling enough to make a difference.

Still, given the time, money and politics involved in getting necessary additional runways and facilities in place, price mechanisms and other market techniques will probably be needed to deal with the congestion ahead. The FAA should continue to examine them.

LABOR PARTY'S CHALLENGES

Providence Journal: As predicted, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor Party won a sweeping victory in Thursday's general election. It was a triumph for the 48-year-old leader; yet what it portends remains unclear.

As Mr. Blair told supporters, "The Labor Party, for the first time in the 100 years of our history, looks as if we may be on the verge of a second successive full term of office."

However, voter turnout was the lowest in many years. And it should be noted that two previous Labor prime ministers won consecutive elections -- but neither managed to serve out two full terms. So it remains to be seen just how historic Labor's achievement under Mr. Blair turns out to be.

Mr. Blair has numerous important accomplishments. Perhaps most important, he has largely succeeded in revamping his party and its public image. He has distanced himself from what some have called the "loony left." Some of these militants, with support high in the party hierarchy, seemed to think that Labor had to promote virtually every "radical" notion -- in economics, education, police-community relations, immigration, etc. -- that came down the line. Mr. Blair understood that this approach was alienating a growing number of voters who could not have confidence that Labor would be a responsible governing party.

Mr. Blair revamped the party's message by bringing it to accept the notion that the values and goals associated with market economics -- e.g., private enterprise, individual initiative, entrepreneurialism, worldwide free trade -- needed to be promoted.

Ideological tendencies: His pragmatism, downplaying the party's traditional ideological tendencies, has earned him the sarcastic nickname of "Tony Blur." And his willingness to acknowledge many of capitalism's benefits has led some observers, friends and foes, to see him as the true heir of Margaret Thatcher, the formidable Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990.

Many in Mr. Blair's party demand that he pay more attention (i.e., spend more tax money) to public services -- schools, hospitals, transportation, etc. Greater emphasis on these expenditures may well be needed, but it will almost surely aggravate tensions between the "old" Labor militants, with strong support in the industrial unions, and "new" Labor. So, despite the sweeping victory on Thursday, it will not necessarily be smooth sailing for Mr. Blair in the years ahead.




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