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Tarmac delay bill gets key support

Ex-airline chief Robert Crandall Ex-airline chief Robert Crandall
Bloomberg News / September 23, 2009

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WASHINGTON - Former American Airlines chief Robert Crandall said federal rules that would require carriers to let passengers off jets stuck on airport tarmacs could be implemented without excessive costs to passengers or airlines.

Crandall said the government should initially require that passengers be allowed off after four hours and narrow the standard to three hours in 2011. Giving airlines time to transition would avoid “very bad consequences’’ such as a jump in cancellations, particularly in New York, he said.

“New rules can be implemented without compromising safety, without seriously increasing consumer costs, and without impacting long-term carrier economics,’’ Crandall said in a speech yesterday in Washington to two groups advocating the change. His backing is a boost for advocates of a “passenger bill of rights’’ because Crandall has been a leader in an industry that has opposed the legislation.

FlyersRights.org, an airline passengers’ group from Napa, Calif., and the Business Travel Coalition, a Radnor, Pa.-based organization of corporate travel managers, sponsored the Capitol Hill conference to spur momentum for congressional passage of a three-hour rule.

The rule was included in a $34.6 billion Senate plan to fund the Federal Aviation Administration for two years. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on July 21 approved the legislation, which is still pending before a separate Senate panel.

Delta Air Lines Inc., American, and other carriers have been trying to fend off a three-hour limit since flights that waited for as long as 10 1/2 hours in 2006 and 2007 put tarmac delays in the spotlight. Industry resistance to a rule is “rooted in its preoccupation with safety,’’ Crandall said. “The industry’s exemplary safety record is a consequence of resisting any change that is not fully understood and has not been thought through in every detail.’’