12:18 PM

Been there, done that.

We all like to rally together these days and gang up on the airlines, who deserve to be taken out behind the woodshed for the less than truthful way they've tried to mislead the public into believing general aviation aircraft are the root cause of the nation's increasing ATC delays.

While we can all agree that the misinformation campaign from Big Airlines is on par ethically with most everything else coming out of George Bush's Washington today, few of us have every really been in that airline system to learn the truth first hand.

But Dan Eikleberry has.

Dan is a retired, high-time United Airlines 747-400 Captain, and recently AOPA published his letter to Delta Air Lines CEO Gerald Grinstein. The letter called the airline's bluff about the user fee fairy tale that Delta and others in the Big Airlines community are spewing as the truth. I have received permission from AOPA to re-publish this letter, so here it is, posted verbatim from AOPA's site:

AOPA's Intro: Voice of experience

The majority of the responses to Delta were respectful, articulate, and well reasoned. The writers made their arguments with facts and personal examples. Many writers had years of experience as pilots and airline passengers to draw on. The e-mail that follows is one of the best diagnoses of the airline delay problem we've seen.

Dear Mr. Grinstein:
Delta e-mails to its frequent fliers indicate that general aviation is somehow responsible for airline traffic delays.

As a 20,000+ hour airline captain, I have flown out of almost every major (and many small) airports in the USA and around the world. General aviation aircraft operating at airports served by airlines, especially those served by your airline (Delta) are almost NEVER the cause of any delays and you should know that. Ask your own pilots what the causes are. Ask them why they aren't getting out of the gate on time. Ask them what causes late arrivals.

I'll try to itemize the MOST common reasons I have seen in 28 years of airline flying as a pilot for another major airline that operates competitively from the same airports Delta flys from:

1. Failure of the airline to get the passengers and bags ON BOARD! That's the PRIMARY reason for airline delays. Most airlines have gotten much better at boarding passengers, and getting the cabin door closed, but the bags, and sometimes the fueling, are the primary reason for the delay.

2. Basic failure to get the plane off the gate. Doors closed, bags loaded, pilots ready ... but there is no one to do the push, or the alley way behind the plane is blocked (usually from your own airline), or ramp control/ground control frequency is so busy your pilots cannot get a word in edgewise to request permission to push back.

3. Pushback problems: Trying to load last minute bags after the plane has pushed, or generally sloppy work on the part of the pushback crew can waste valuable minutes as the engines are started. After that, ATC (ground control) delays providing taxi clearance can be a problem. This is due to too many airlines, NOT general aviation, trying to taxi at once!

4. Taxi routes: Most airports today have a good plan, good taxi-way layout, but many of the older airports such as LGA, EWR, BOS, even SFO to some extent, have poorly designed taxi routings and it causes bottlenecks (crossing runways, airliners all trying to converge on a single runway for takeoff while waiting for landing airlines to pass by). The "conga lines" at EWR and LGA are a major problem that cause delays down-line for your airline because if you can't get OFF the ground, you're plane is going to be late IN and then late OUT at the next airport. The domino effect. FIX the problems at the hubs so your planes can get IN and get OUT.

5. Notice to this point, I have NOT mentioned weather nor maintenance delays? Again, those happen, and are NOT a general aviation-generated problem.

6. Departure and arrival ATC delays: Some air traffic controllers can handle any volume of traffic, some can't. The Chicago approach and departure control are amazing. They can handle any amount of traffic you give them. In 28 years, I've been impressed with ORD handling of traffic. Departures are simple: Turn to this heading and get out of town! It works. They separate the planes and you're on your way. I wish every air traffic controller had a mandatory 6 month duty at ORD approach and tower, after which he could go to his permanent assignment and relax for the rest of his life. It's all relative. SYD (Australia) thinks they have a busy airport and have many rules and run you all over the sky before they let you land, yet they have the traffic count of CID (Cedar Rapids, Iowa). But they think they're busy.

7. En route ATC can be a drag, but again, it's NOT general aviation up there at FL310 — FL390 where the airlines are flying. In the USA, almost the entire country is under radar coverage. If a slower biz-jet is in your way, ATC can easily give you a small 10 degree turn and you simply go around the biz-jet, or you climb 1000' and go over him. ATC can handle that easily. Slow biz-jets (and there aren't that many in the sky compared to the number of airliners on your routes) are simply NOT a problem. For the most part, the biz-jets make their economy at HIGHER flight levels than airlines fly, anyway. FL410-FL450 are rarely visited by airlines, but are fuel efficient levels for the Learjets and Citations and Gulfstreams who can cruise up there easily.

Please STOP your attack on general aviation. I have flown all the Boeing jets, I have a prior background in military jet fighters (USAF, flew F-4s in Viet Nam and the USA), and have and still do, fly general aviation piston aircraft. In the homebuilt experimentals, we stay far from airline airports and same for the light Cessnas I fly. Please do NOT do anything to tax our flights, as we are simply NOT PART OF YOUR PROBLEM!

Thank you for reading this, if you do.

Dan Eikleberry
Captain, 747-400, United Airlines
(Recently forced into retirement by the archaic age-60 rule!)
Whoa, that's telling it like it is! Now these questions still beg to be answered: Will the Big Airlines, the FAA, the Senate and the ATA all listen to the kind of logic that Captain Eikleberry puts out there? Will a few Senators kill any deal that removes the huge tax break that will be gifted to their Big Airline cronies? And if AOPA is successful in getting H.R. 2881 passed (which kills off user fees), will W sign it?

You Might Also Like