Federal Aviation Administration officials told airline executives yesterday that they are considering some restrictions on business jets and other private flying to ease delays in New York-area arrivals and departures.
Such proposals in the past have met with vigorous protests from the general aviation lobby, whose members include private pilots, corporate officers and many members of Congress.
The FAA officials stressed that they do not have a firm plan, but they are under considerable pressure from airline interests to restrict general aviation in much the same fashion that airline operations are restricted.
"It's hard to understand why aviation is the only mode in which the Transportation Department does not support car-pooling," said Clark Onstad, a vice president at Continental Airlines. Industry executives voice irritation at watching a Boeing 727 with 135 people on board wait on the taxiway while a five-passenger Learjet lands.
The suggestion of controls on general aviation came as airline executives meeting in Arlington succeeded in rescheduling flights at New York's Kennedy International Airport, one of six major airports where the FAA has said it will impose schedule changes if the airlines cannot reach them voluntarily.
The Civil Aeronatics Board and the FAA both must review the Kennedy agreement, which would take effect with November schedules.
Overscheduling at peak hours is considered a major contributor to delays, which in August affected almost one flight in 10 nationally.
Norman J. Philion, a co-chairman of the airlines' meeting, said they have made good progress in separating overlapping flights at Atlanta, Denver and Chicago, although final agreements have yet to be reached. Today they will take up the other two New York area airports, LaGuardia and Newark. They expect to continue meeting through Tuesday.
Delays are more frequent in New York than elsewhere and ripple across the country from there. A major contributor to those delays, the airlines contend, is a general aviation airport in Teterboro, N.J.
It has about 1,000 flights a day, many of which have to be coordinated with flights at nearby Newark, the home of rapidly growing People Express. "As far as the air traffic control system is concerned, a flight at Teterboro is the same as a flight at Newark," an FAA source said. Newark flights, in turn, affect those at LaGuardia, and LaGuardia's flights mesh with Kennedy's.
Robert E. Cohn, attorney for People Express, urged the FAA's John R. Ryan yesterday to deal with Teterboro.
"The makeup is essentially general aviation," Ryan said. "The only way I know to treat that is some allocation system, or have someone get a reservation to fly . That is one of the options." FAA officials said later several options that would have the same effect are being discussed.
General aviation advocates have said in recent weeks that the FAA's own statistics do not support the contention that general aviation traffic interferes with airline movements.
In a letter to People Express, John H. Winant, president of the National Business Aircraft Association, pointed to FAA data showing a 10 percent decline in general aviation flights at Newark.
He asked, "Do you think anyone can rightly place a major share of the blame for congestion on general aviation when these data are cited?"
However, the data does not include the impact of general aviation from Teterboro.
FAA and senior Transportation Department officials agreed in private conversations that data collection needs to be sharpened before firm conclusions can be reached about the nationwide impact of general aviation on airline schedules.
The only places general aviation flights are restricted are at four airports where all flights are subject to quotas -- LaGuardia, Kennedy, Chicago O'Hare and Washington National. In the rest of the nation, when a general aviation flight shows up on the radar screen the air traffic controller has to give it priority treatment. Airline flights are held on the ground until air traffic control can handle them.
Cohn also urged Ryan to expedite reconfiguration of air traffic control assignments in the New York area to increase capacity. There is agreement within the FAA that redesigned traffic patterns would help the situation, but reworking airspace is a complex proposition involving restricted military areas and tough internal FAA politics.
For example, one proposal would have controllers in the LaGuardia tower "hand off" southbound flights directly to controllers at the Washington regional center in Leesburg, instead of going first through a New York regional center. That would mean reshuffling personnel allocations and radar screens between FAA employment centers, a controversial issue in government.
Another problem contributing to delays, airlines feel, is that some of their brethren exceed their flight quotas at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports. Edward P. Faberman, acting FAA chief counsel, said his office is seeking to enforce quotas through civil penalties.
Proposed penalty letters, the first formal step in such actions, have been sent to "10 or 12 airlines," Faberman said, but he would not identify them.
The maximum penalty is $1,000 per violation, but some airlines have proposed paying as much as $220,000 for the right to land at a quota-controlled airport.