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Notice

Operating Limitations at Chicago O'Hare International Airport

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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ACTION:

Notice of order to show cause and request for information.

SUMMARY:

The FAA has issued an order to show cause, which solicits the views of interested persons on the FAA's tentative determination to extend through April 1, 2006, an August 18, 2004, order limiting the number of scheduled aircraft arrivals at O'Hare International Airport during peak operating hours. The text of the order to show cause is set forth in this notice.

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DATES:

Any written information that responds to the FAA's order to show cause must be submitted by August 1, 2005.

ADDRESSES:

You may submit written information, identified by docket number FAA-2004-16944, by any of the following methods:

  • Web site; http://dms.dot.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting information on the DOT electronic docket site.
  • Fax: 1-202-493-2251.
  • Mail: Docket Management System, U.S. Department of Transportation, 400 Seventh Street, SW., Nassif Building, Room PL-401, Washington, DC 20590-0001. If sent by mail, information is to be submitted in two copies. Persons wishing to receive confirmation of receipt of their written submission should include a self-addressed stamped postcard.
  • Hand Delivery: Docket Management System, Room PL-401, on the plaza level of the Nassif Building, 400 Seventh Street, SW., Washington, DC, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

Instructions: You must include the agency name and docket number FAA-2004-16944 for this notice at the beginning of the information that you submit. Note that the information received will be posted without change to http://dms.dot.gov, including any personal information provided. Submissions to the docket that include trade secrets, confidential, commercial, or financial information, or sensitive security information will not be posted in the public docket. Such information will be placed in a separate file to which the public does not have access, and a note will be placed in the public docket to state that the agency has received such materials from the submitter.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Gerry Shakley, System Operations, Air Traffic Organization: telephone (202) 267-9424; facsimile (202) 267-7277; e-mail gerry.shakley@faa.gov.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Order To Show Cause

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has tentatively determined that it will extend through April 1, 2006, the FAA's August 18, 2004, order limiting scheduled operations at O'Hare International Airport (O'Hare). In the absence of an extension, the August 2004 order would expire on October 29, 2005. This order to show cause invites air carriers and other interested persons to submit comments in Docket No. FAA-2004-16944 on this proposal to extend the duration of the August 2004 order.

If the FAA were to allow the August 2004 order to expire as presently scheduled, the FAA anticipates a return of the congestion-related delays that precipitated the voluntary schedule reductions and adjustments reflected in the August 2004 order. The FAA has adopted a rule limiting unscheduled flights at O'Hare,[1] but it has applied no limits on scheduled flights at O'Hare, other than the August 2004 order. In a separate docket, the FAA solicited public comment on a proposed rule that would limit the number of scheduled operations at O'Hare.[2] The comment period for the proposed rule ended on May 24, and the FAA and the Office of the Secretary of Transportation are evaluating the comments filed in that proceeding. Given the currently scheduled expiration of the August 2004 order, however, it is not possible for the FAA to complete its evaluation of the comments and to publish a final rule, if the FAA elects to do so, in time to afford air carriers their customary 90- to 120-day lead time to establish their operating schedules. The FAA expects that the extension of the August 2004 order will permit the order's expiration to coincide with the effective date of any final rule, if a rule is adopted.

The FAA's authority to extend the August 2004 order is the same as the authority cited in that order. The FAA proposes to extend the August 2004 order under the agency's broad authority in 49 U.S.C. 40103(b) to regulate the use of the navigable airspace of the United States. This provision authorizes the FAA to develop plans and policy for the use of navigable airspace and, by order or rule, to regulate the use of the airspace as necessary to ensure its efficient use.

Background: On August 18, 2004, the FAA issued an order limiting the number of scheduled arrivals that air carriers conduct at O'Hare during peak hours. The August 2004 order followed a period during which O'Hare operated without any regulatory constraint on the number of aircraft operations, and O'Hare experienced significant congestion-related delay. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, in November 2003, O'Hare ranked last among the nation's thirty-one major airports for on-time arrival performance, with on-time arrivals 57.26% of the time. O'Hare also ranked last in on-time departures in November 2003, yielding on-time departures 66.94% of the time. The data for December 2003 reflected a similar performance by O'Hare—ranking last with 60.06% of arrivals on time and 67.23% of departures on time. Despite the high proportion of delayed flights, when the air carriers published their January and February 2004 schedules in the Official Airline Guide, the schedules revealed that the air carriers intended to add still more flight operations to O'Hare's schedule.

In January 2004, the two air carriers conducting most of the scheduled operations at O'Hare—together accounting for about 88% of O'Hare's scheduled flights—agreed to a temporary 5% reduction of their proposed peak-hour schedules at the airport. When the voluntarily reduced schedules failed to reduce sufficiently O'Hare's congestion-related flight delays, the two air carriers agreed to a further 2.5% reduction of their scheduled peak-hour operations at O'Hare. The FAA captured the voluntary schedule reductions in FAA orders, and the orders were effective through October 30, 2004.

By the summer of 2004, it was apparent that the schedule reductions agreed to in the first half of the year, which were made by only two of the many air carriers conducting scheduled operations at O'Hare, were unlikely to be renewed after the orders expired on October 30, 2004. In the absence of a voluntary constraint, the industry's proposed schedules for November, as reported in the preliminary Official Airline Guide in July 2004, indicated that the number of scheduled arrivals during several hours would approach or exceed O'Hare highest possible arrival capacity. During one hour, the number of scheduled arrivals would have exceeded by 32% O'Hare's capacity under ideal conditions.

Therefore, the FAA invited all scheduled air carriers to an August 2004 scheduling reduction meeting to discuss overscheduling at O'Hare, voluntary schedule reductions, and retiming flights to less congested periods. The August 2004 meeting and subsequent negotiations led the FAA to issue the August 2004 order, which limited the number of scheduled arrivals conducted at U.S. and Canadian air carriers at O'Hare during peak operating hours. The order also defined opportunities for new entry and for growth by limited incumbent air carriers at O'Hare. The order took effect November 1, 2004, was previously extended on March 21, 2005, and in the absence of a further extension, it will expire on October 29, 2005.

The flight limits implemented by the August 2004 order have been effective. Delays have decreased, and customers have seen improved on-time arrival performance as a result of the depeaked Start Printed Page 42137flight schedules. For the period from November 2004 through June 2005, the average minutes of arrival delay decreased by approximately 27% when compared to the same period last year. This level of delay reduction is somewhat better than the 20% reduction in delays that the FAA's computer modeling anticipated. We attribute this primarily to weather conditions that were more favorable than average and to certain peak hours in which the arrivals actually scheduled have been below the hourly limit adopted in the August 2004 order.

Additionally, the longest arrival delays—those lasting more than one hour—have decreased by approximately 31%. Preliminary on-time arrival performance while the August 2004 order has been in effect indicates in improvement of over eight percentage points. As a result, O'Hare is now performing near the average for the rest of the National Airspace System, which is a dramatic improvement over the airport's bottom-tier performance during much of 2004.

Order to Show Cause: The FAA has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to address appropriate limitations on scheduled operations at O'Hare. The comment period for the proposed rule closed on May 24, and the FAA and the Office of the Secretary of Transportation are evaluating the comments filed in the rulemaking docket and intend to make a final decision as soon as reasonably possible. The FAA cannot complete the rulemaking process sufficiently in advance of the August 2004 order's current expiration date, however, given the 90- to 120-day lead time the air carriers need to finalize plans for their winter scheduling season, as well as the complexity of the issues presented in the rulemaking.

To prevent a recurrence of overscheduling at O'Hare during the interim between the expiration of the August 2004 order on October 29, 2005, and the effective date of a rule, if a rule is adopted, the FAA tentatively intends to extend the August 2004 order. The limits on arrivals and the allocation of arrival authority embodied in the August 2004 order reflect the FAA's agreements with U.S. and Canadian air carriers. As a result, maintaining the order through the winter scheduling season constitutes a reasonable approach to preventing unacceptable congestion and delays at O'Hare. The August 2004 order, as extended, would expire on April 1, 2006.

Accordingly, the FAA directs all interested persons to show cause why the FAA should not make final its tentative findings and tentative decision to extend the August 2004 order through April 2, 2006, by filing their written views in Docket No. FAA-2004-16944 on or before August 1, 2005. The FAA is not soliciting views on the issues separately under consideration in the proposed rulemaking. Therefore, any submissions to the current docket should be limited to the issue of extending the August 2004 order.

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Dated: Issued in Washington, DC, on July 18, 2005.

Rebecca MacPherson,

Assistant Chief Counsel for Regulation.

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Footnotes

1.  70 FR 39,610 (July 8, 2005).

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2.  70 FR 15,520 (Mar. 25, 2005).

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[FR Doc. 05-14461 Filed 7-18-05; 4:35 pm]

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