FAA Seeks to Cut Air Traffic Congestion
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Summer means summer vacations, and for a lot of people summer vacations mean getting on an airplane. An estimated 207 million people are expected to fly this summer. A lot of them are going to end up staring at departure screens flashing delayed, or worse, cancelled due to weather. NPR's Allison Keyes reports on a new program from the Federal Aviation Administration aimed at reducing weather delays.
ALLISON KEYES reporting:
As cloud roil the skies above Washington's Reagan National Airport, Trina Robertson was crossing her fingers that her flight to Dallas wasn't delayed yet again. But the plane's scheduled to leave before hers had already been pushed back. And like many other travelers she's been there before.
Ms. TRINA ROBERTSON (Traveler): I have definitely had weather issues. I've been in the airport for eight hours.
KEYES: That flight, a year or so ago, had a layover in Atlanta but was grounded by storms in Texas.
Ms. ROBERTSON: Even though the weather had already passed through Atlanta and had some flights bumped back, my delay was because of Dallas weather delay.
KEYES: FAA administrator Marion Blakey says the Airspace Flow Program, known as AFP, will help. She says it will significantly reduce the one hundred thousand minutes of delays caused by the weather each year. Consider for example, a flight from Los Angeles to Newark that could affected by storms brewing in Philadelphia.
Ms. MARION BLAKEY (Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration): In the past we would issue a blanket delay for all of those planes into Newark, even those that theoretically would not have been bothered by the storm. But with AFP we can selectively delay only those flights that are actually going to be impacted by the storm.
KEYES: The FAA's Russ Chew explains that the AFP shifts the focus of the agency's attempts to reduce delays from specific airports to airspace.
Mr. RUSS CHEW (Federal Aviation Administration): We take a block of airspace, which is generally you'll think of in three dimensions, in terms of in north, south, east, west, and then how high and how low it goes; then the-the system identifies each and every flight that's going to fly through that. And it's also adds a fourth dimension, of time. And it only affects those flights that are going to go through that airspace in that period of time at that altitude.
KEYES: FAA officials found it difficult to quantify the benefits of the new initiative. But industry experts say the month old AFP, which currently affects flights in the Northeast, is great for airlines and passengers. It's already been used 20 times. Jim May, a CEO of the Air Transport Association.
Mr. JIM MAY (CEO, Air Transport Association): It has proven itself to give us flexibility, which enables us to complete flights, albeit on a delayed basis where before they would have been cancelled.
KEYES: The FAA plans to expand their program to more geographic areas in the future. Trina Robertson says that sounds great, with one caveat.
Ms. ROBERTSON: I don't necessarily want to be on the flight that they're trying to fly through the storm in, either. I've got a lot of respect for lightning.
KEYES: The FAA says the AFP meets its highest safety standards. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.