A Strategy Is Needed To Deal With Peaking Problems at International Airports

GGD-83-4: Published: Mar 24, 1983. Publicly Released: Mar 28, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO examined how rescheduling international flight arrivals might ease the problems caused by multiple arrivals within a short time period and the effect of multiple arrivals on the federal inspection process. Assuming no change in the federal agencies' staffing levels, GAO developed a computerized simulation program which attempted to spread out flight arrivals at the Honolulu Airport without violating any airport's curfew and gave some consideration to travelers' preferences for arrival and departure times.

GAO found that, under its alternative simulated flight arrival schedule, the average time spent waiting to complete the airport inspection process could be reduced by approximately 50 percent. Over 99 percent of the passengers could be processed within an hour. Currently, only 48 percent of the arriving passengers are processed within that time. The impact of schedule changes on aircraft and crew utilization and connecting flights is unknown; however, the analysis indicated that rescheduling may not need to be extensive to produce a sharp drop in the length of time a traveler waits to enter the country. The need for rescheduling would also be affected by the extent to which other alternatives could be used to speed the entry of travelers. Foreign airports have successfully rescheduled flights to reduce airport congestion problems. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration began to use scheduling controls on a limited basis to keep the air carriers' landing and departure rights during peak periods in line with takeoff and landing capacity at certain congested domestic airports. GAO found that the landing rights policies and procedures of the Customs Service have not been effective and have come under increasing attack by the air carriers as being arbitrary and discriminatory. Customs has considered several alternative procedures but none have been adopted.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs determined that setting a facilities-per-hour capacity is the appropriate peaking response. It stated that this worked successfully at JFK and Seattle-Tacoma Airports. Customs does not see immediate peaking problems at other airports. However, it is developing an airport model analysis system, which, when implemented, will serve as the basis for addressing future peaking problems at air

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury, in cooperation with the other federal inspection agencies, should establish criteria for identifying the existence of peaking problems at airports, based primarily on the number of international travelers that can be efficiently and timely handled by the federal inspection system, as currently configured or potentially enhanced.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Customs is developing a strategy to deal with peaking based on setting a facilities-per-hour capacity at problem airports. This strategy was employed at the Seattle-Tacoma and JFK Airport and three carriers shifted arrivals to ease the peaking problem. Customs is trying to facilitate passengers within existing schedules by enhancing processing techniques.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Treasury should develop a strategy to deal with the problems of peaking. Such strategy should include an assessment of alternatives including controlling the timing of flight arrivals if timely entry of travelers cannot be improved through other alternatives. Further, the Secretary, in conjunction with the airlines and other concerned federal agencies, should reconsider the procedures for allocating landing rights.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Treasury


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