"The FAA has to get a mentality where five-year projects become two-year projects and two-year projects become one-year projects," says Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition in Radnor, Pa. "There's this lolly-dolly attitude – things go on forever at the FAA."
Airlines, too, are pointing the finger at the FAA for not moving fast enough. But many aviation analysts say the airlines themselves are primarily responsible for many delays. The reason: the way they schedule their flights. During the past decade, the major carriers significantly increased their fleets of smaller, 50-seat regional jets, arguing that their customers wanted more frequent flights to the same destination. That added more congestion to America's archaic and overburdened air-traffic-control system and led the number of delays to spike.
"The airlines give you half the bargain: They say their customers tell us they want more frequent service," says aviation analyst Robert Mann of R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, N.Y. "The airlines really need to offer the whole bargain, which is: Do you want more frequent service that's completely unreliable because of the delays and cancellations it drives, or would you like slightly fewer flights that are much more likely to be on time?"
To deal with the rising number of flights in and out of airports in the New York area, the FAA this year put a cap on the number of flights that can leave per hour at JFK Airport, located in Queens. Such limits were already in place at LaGuardia, also in Queens, and Newark International in nearby New Jersey. The goal is to keep the air-traffic-control system from being overburdened, especially during peak travel times.