FAA plan aims to make business flights easier

If you are a frequent business traveler you have to hope this is good news: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week expanded a program that it says will reduce flight delays during the peak summer season.

The Airspace Flow Program gives airlines the option of either accepting delays for flights scheduled to fly through storms or flying longer routes to maneuver around them.

The agency employed the program last year at seven locations in the Northeast. On bad weather days at major airports in the region, delays fell by 9 % compared to the year before. Cost savings for the airlines and the flying public from the program are estimated to be $100 million annually.

This summer the program will be used in 18 cities, adding locations in the South and Midwest. The agency's actions come as the Air Transport Association, the airline industry's main trade group, forecast that a record number of airline passengers would fly during the Memorial Day holiday weekend and over the summer.

For the 10-day period around Memorial Day, the association predicts 21.4 million passengers worldwide will travel on U.S. airlines, up almost four percent from last year. Between June and August, the association forecasts 209 million passengers, up three percent from last year.

Prior to this year severe storms often forced the FAA to ground flights at affected airports, penalizing flights not scheduled to fly through them. This program allows the FAA to manage traffic fairly and efficiently by identifying only those flights scheduled to fly through storms and giving them estimated departure times. In turn, the airlines have greater flexibility in planning schedules with less disruption for passengers, the agency said in a statement.

The agency said that it rolled out a new software program that ensures airports impacted by bad weather receive the maximum number of flights that can safely fly to them. During storms, arrival slots often open up due to delayed or canceled flights.

The new software program, called Adaptive Compression, automatically fills those slots with the next available flight. The software tool, which was launched in March, reduces delays, saving time and money for the airlines and passengers.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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