- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007


The Federal Aviation Administration says it will expand the use of an air-traffic control strategy intended to minimize weather-related delays.

The agency’s “airspace flow program” allows airlines to choose between flying longer routes to avoid stormy weather or accepting delays that are annoying for fliers and costly for the industry.

“If your flight isn’t scheduled to fly through bad weather, you don’t have to sit on the tarmac,” FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said yesterday. “If it is [affected by bad weather], your airline has the choice of taking a delay … or flying around the storm.”

The program was introduced last year in seven high-traffic air-travel regions in the Northeast, reducing delays because of bad weather by 9 percent, the FAA said. This summer, the program will be used in 18 regions, including parts of the South and Midwest.

The FAA, which developed the program with input from industry representatives, estimated it will save $100 million per year in reduced costs for airlines and the public.

Sid McGuirk, associate professor of air-traffic management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., credited the FAA for its pragmatic approach to maintaining high safety standards while addressing the complaints of airlines and corporate jets that felt many flights were being grounded unnecessarily.

“In years past, they’ve erred on the side of caution, and the users have been screaming,” Mr. McGuirk said. “This is a cautious move toward allowing the users to access the system in a way that doesn’t overload the system and doesn’t create a dangerous situation.”

However, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union that represents air-traffic controllers, said a shortage of controllers will make summer delays inevitable.

“You’ve got to have more controllers,” said Doug Church, spokesman for the union, which is seeking to restart new contract. “They’re going to be working tired.”

So far this year, U.S. carriers are off to a “tough start” with 13 percent more flight delays from January to April.

The FAA acted as the Air Transport Association, a trade group, forecast that a record number of airline passengers would fly during the Memorial Day weekend and throughout the summer. For a 10-day period around Memorial Day, the association predicts 21.4 million passengers worldwide will travel on U.S. airlines, up 3.3 percent from last year.

Between June and August, the association forecasts 209 million passengers, up 3 percent from last year.

James May, the group’s president, said that airlines “are maximizing their efforts to ensure that operations run smoothly for our customers.”

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