The nation's air traffic control system needs to be modernized and expanded, the head of the FAA said Thursday.
Federal Aviation Administration chief T. Allan McArtor indicated that last summer's emergency declaration restricting general aviation in the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area is not the kind of action he wants for the future.
"The answer is not to restrict air travel, but to simply get on with the business of establishing an air system capable of handling greater numbers of aircraft," he said.
The FAA administrator spoke at a news conference while he was attending the 32nd annual meeting of the Air Traffic Control Assn., a business and professional group.
In August, McArtor's agency raised the ceiling of the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area from 7,000 feet to 12,500 feet and closed a north-south corridor that allowed small airplanes to fly over Los Angeles International Airport.
The agency cited the danger of a collision between a small plane and a jetliner. Several pilot groups have gone to court to fight the ruling, saying it won't significantly affect safety in the air.
"I think to say there is a crisis in the air traffic system is an overstatement, but I think it is fair to say there is a crisis in confidence," McArtor told reporters during the news conference at the Disneyland Hotel.
McArtor said an increase in reported near-collisions was due in part to heightened vigilance by pilots, who have been encouraged to report such events.
But he also acknowledged that air traffic has reached such high volume in some parts of the country that it is straining the system.
"We do have capacity limits in the system, in terms of both air space capacity and airport capacity," McArtor said.
"We must continue to aggressively pursue recapitalization of equipment," he said, referring to modernizing radar, computers and other equipment used by the FAA.
He also said airlines need to adapt realistic flight scheduling and to acknowledge what he called "capacity realities."
Most of the delays experienced by ticket buyers are not created by the air traffic control system but are caused by airlines scheduling flights during peak hours, he said.
And while an obvious solution to the problem would be airport expansion and new airports, the noise from commercial aircraft is still at levels that draw public objection to such projects.
"This country has got to learn to manage noise better," he said.
Regarding the Los Angeles Terminal Control Area restrictions, McArtor repeated an earlier FAA statement that two or more TCA routes could be opened for small aircraft by early next year, but those planes will have to be equipped with radar transponders that give both their altitude and location.
"The clear and present danger with respect to the Los Angeles Terminal Control airspace was the ceiling--the top of the TCA at the 7,000-foot level. That was the area that had to be raised."
General aviation corridors had to be closed until FAA officials understood how the raising of the ceiling would affect air traffic, he said.