Sunday, May 22, 2005

Airlines argue daylight-saving change is costly

May 18, 2005

WASHINGTON ? Financially strapped U.S. airlines are worried that a congressional effort to extend daylight-saving time by two months would disrupt their overseas flight schedules and cost them at least $147 million in lost business.
The change, a power conservation effort approved by the House as part of a massive energy bill, would particularly interfere with timed takeoff and landing rights that the airlines have at airports in Europe, an industry group says.
"We are pretty concerned," said Diana Cronan, spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association. "We believe it would have a major impact during the period daylight-saving time would be extended."
The association, which represents major U.S. airlines such as United, American and US Airways, is trying to head off similar action by the Senate, which started crafting its energy bill yesterday.
"This seemingly simple change will have a ripple effect throughout the domestic airline system that will frustrate and inconvenience travelers while hurting U.S. airlines," the association said in a briefing paper distributed to lawmakers.
It "will cause significant disruption to airline flight schedules and give European and Asian carriers a competitive advantage over U.S. airlines."
The issue is complex, involving international landing rights, also known as "slots," and the timing of domestic flights that feed passengers into overseas flights.
Currently, daylight-saving time in the United States and Europe are only out of sync for one week a year. The one-hour time change starts the last Sunday in March in Europe, and the first Sunday in April in the United States. Both end on the last Sunday in October.
Historically, the one-week difference has not been disruptive, the airlines say, with international scheduling guidelines recognizing a "transition period" in the timing of takeoffs and arrivals.
But the House bill would move the start of daylight-saving time in the U.S. to the first Sunday in March and push the end to the last Sunday in November.
"Other nations are not willing to extend this transition period from one week to seven weeks each year, forcing U.S. airlines and passengers to adjust their schedules," the Air Transport Association says.
Most major European, Canadian and Asian airports use timed takeoff and landing slots that "are inflexible and unable to handle changes in the arrivals and departures of U.S. airline flights," the association says. Canada's daylight-saving time coincides with the United States', while few countries in Asia observe the time change.
Revisions in international flight schedules would have a ripple effect on the domestic flights that connect with them, the airline association adds.
"Domestic schedules will not be as finely coordinated with international flights and passengers will be faced with connection times that are either an extra hour in length or impossibly short," it says.
Most U.S. airports are not controlled by timed landing and takeoff slots, and foreign airlines have more flexibility to switch slots at their home airports. That would give them a competitive advantage during the extended daylight-saving time, the association argues.
Independent industry analysts were uncertain how much disruption the proposed time change would cause U.S. airlines.
"It would cause some scheduling issues, no question," said Michael Boyd, president of The Boyd Group, an aviation consulting firm. "I don't think it's all that critical."
Proponents say that extending daylight-saving time by two months would reduce U.S. energy consumption by the equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day.
When the energy bill passed the House last month, Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., the sponsor of the provision, called it "a common-sense approach that will conserve energy as well as add a little more light to everyone's day."
A spokesman for Upton did not return a phone call for comment about the concerns raised by the airlines.
Energy legislation that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee began debating yesterday does not include a similar provision. But it could be added at some point in the process or included in negotiations with the House.
"It's something we're looking at and analyzing," said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for committee Democrats. "I haven't seen any indication that anyone intends to include it in the (Senate) energy bill, at least at the committee level."

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