High-tech software is a bright spot in summer of flight delay hell

Flight delays are up 19% from where they were last summer but if not for two of the Administration’s high-tech babies things could be much worse. That was the bottom line in a speech given today by Marion Blakey, the administrator of the FAA.  The first is called adaptive compression.  Between April and July, this technology reduced delays by more than 863,000 minutes saving  airlines about $35 million a year in fuel and other operational expenses, she said.Adaptive compression is a computer program that constantly scans for open airport slots.  It’s common for slots to open up whenever flights are cancelled, delayed or re-routed. The problem is, the carriers had no way of knowing which slots were freed up for someone else to use. Now they do. The second technology is airspace flow program that gives airlines the option of either accepting delays for flights scheduled to fly through storms or flying longer routes to maneuver around them. Blakey said the FAA deployed these program in  11 new locations, distributed throughout the center of the country. The idea is that it will help the air traffic control system move traffic through constrained areas — traffic destined to many major metropolitan areas in the eastern half of the U.S. The agency employed the program last year at 36 locations on 19 days from June through August and saw a 21% reduction in delays from what would have been if we hadn’t used this tool, Blakey said.  Cost savings for the airlines and the flying public from the program are estimated to be $100 million annually.“It’s too soon to tell what the exact figures on delay reductions will amount to, but I can tell you that we expect them to be even greater than in ’06,” she said. “What we’re doing with AFP is giving airlines the choice of accepting an expected departure time or a longer route around the storm. This provides flexibility. This provides the passenger with a more dependable schedule. As bad as [this summer] was, I don’t want to think about how much worse the delays would’ve been without these improvements I just mentioned.”Certainly air travel hasn’t slowed. One trade group predicts that 15.7 million people will take to the skies the Labor Day weekend  for the last gasp of summer, Blakey said. That’s an increase of almost 3% from the year before.In her speech before the Command Center Briefing on Delays in Washington, DC, Blakey also reiterated her concern that Congress isn’t acting fast enough to give the agency money to upgrade the FAA’s operations, known as NextGen,  including air traffic control.  “Once again, it’s time for Congress to pass a reauthorization measure that does for aviation what’s never been done before — ties the FAA’s revenues to the cost of doing business. Let me tell you, if we don’t get that, the improvements will sputter along, the delays will only get worse, and every weekend will feel like Labor Day,” she said.Blakey, whose five-year term as FAA administrator ends in two-weeks, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution on Wednesday, if Congress doesn’t quickly approve a new four-year FAA authorization bill after returning from its August recess, it is risking a massive disruption to air transportation."There really will not be money" to continue operating the air traffic control system once the last dollars in the aviation trust fund are spent down by November, she told AJC.com. Blakey argues that Congress should change the formula of fees and taxes that pay for air-traffic control services and airport infrastructure because FAA data show it currently weighs too heavily on commercial airlines.Big carriers agree that air passengers pay far out of proportion to the costs they impose. Blakey says corporate jets and other private aircraft should be charged user fees to more fairly distribute the burden, according to AJC.com.  

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