The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is expanding an initiative aimed at reducing a big headache for travelers and airlines alike – delays caused by summer storms. Introduced in the northeast United States in July 2006, the Airspace Flow Program delivers ergonomic benefits because it allows air traffic controllers to delay only those flights that are expected to hit really bad weather.
The FAA noted in a press release when the program was introduced that sudden thunderstorms frequently affect the nation’s airspace system during the summer when travel is at its highest. On a single severe weather day, thousands of flights can be delayed, diverted or canceled, affecting hundreds of thousands of passengers and resulting in millions of dollars in operating losses for carriers. There are as many as 40 severe weather days each year.
Reporting on the expansion on April 21, The Washington Post noted that in the past the FAA halted traffic at airports to prevent congestion in the sky caused by thunderstorms. Those “ground stops” closed down chunks of airspace, affecting flights that were scheduled to pass through or even near those storm areas. For example, the article explained, if there was a line of thunderstorms over western Pennsylvania, controllers might halt flights from Miami to New York, even for planes on that route that were not going to pass through the storms.
Bob Everson, told The Chicago Tribune, another newspaper reporting on the expansion of the FAA program, that the high winds and heavy rain associated with thunderstorms are tougher for air-traffic controllers to deal with than snowstorms because warm-weather storms are extremely unpredictable. Everson is the FAA director of tactical air-traffic operations in the midwestern United States.
Federal officials implemented the program about 40 times last year, Mike Sammartino, director of system operations at the FAA, told the Post.
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey has hailed the program in speeches, saying it reduced delays during severe weather by about 21 percent for flights heading to the eastern United States..
Explaining the FAA flow program, the Tribune article noted that it will help the airlines identify where planes cannot navigate safely in high-altitude corridors during stormy weather and the FAA can pass along more realistic expected departure times to the airlines. The goal is to reduce instances in which passengers are loaded onto planes only to sit for hours waiting to depart.
Sources: FAA; The Washington Post; The Chicago Tribune