You'll Find No Silver Lining in This Forecast

Article excerpt

Byline: Gail Todd

"Blustery storms with cloudy skies and limited visibility blanket the area. Storm warnings are in effect. Travelers are advised to stay inside."

Sounds like a Chicago weather report in January, doesn't it? Sounds more like the extended forecast for air travel during the next 10 years.

According to a report from the Federal Aviation Administration, in 10 years we can expect more than a billion people to spread their wings - a huge increase over the 700 million or so that flew during the year 2000. Already statistics show only 75 percent of scheduled flights actually depart or arrive on time. So what are the odds of ever seeing blue skies again?

"Not good," says Ben Davis, who travels weekly for business. "Everybody wants to leave at 8 a.m. and return at 5 p.m. Planes are bumper to bumper at those hours. Even on a clear day there's no way they can take off on time."

In order to maximize profits, many carriers cut back on nonstop flights, and filter passengers into and out of their hub cities. Large numbers of passengers who land at airports such as Chicago O'Hare or St. Louis Lambert Field are just passing through. Congestion could be reduced by increasing the number of hub cities and reducing the number of flight schedules at prime times.

Last year the government was taking some heat for not upgrading airport equipment fast enough or planning ahead for the increased activity airports and passengers are now forced to endure. …