New "express lanes" will be introduced to the USA's air traffic system this year in an attempt to alleviate weather-related delays, writes Darren Shannon.

This measure is one of several initiatives announced by US Department of Transportation (DoT) secretary Norman Mineta to counter expected summer gridlock, which could reach the unprecedented levels experienced during summer 2000.

"The majority of aviation delays are caused by bad weather, and managing these delays is particularly challenging during the spring and summer months," Mineta said during the programme's unveiling at the US Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control system command centre in Herndon, Virginia.

"Unlike past summers, when weather-delayed aircraft at congested airports waited to be scheduled into the normal air traffic flow, this year the FAA and the airlines will adjust routes throughout the airspace system and hold aircraft briefly on the ground to free up vital air traffic lanes," says Mineta. "These express lanes will reduce overall delay times at congested airports by getting aircraft off the ground and into the air traffic flow as safely and efficiently as weather permits."

The DoT's initiative also combines Canadian and US weather radars to provide more accurate and timely information, which will expedite the process of rerouting aircraft. An enhanced collaborative convective forecast product, developed jointly by the National Weather Service and the airlines, will also improve aircraft rerouting and planning in advance of bad weather, says Mineta.

"By bringing aviation's intellectual capital together in one room, we've come up with a new solution to help ease delays," says FAA administrator Marion Blakey. "The partnership of the FAA and industry is at the centre of improved efficiency in the national airspace system."

Source: Flight International