The summer of 2000 is shaping up to be one of the worst in US commercial aviation history in terms of air traffic control (ATC) delays and congestions. Figures released by the Federal Aviation Administration show that delays recorded for June were up by 16% to almost 50,000 compared with June 1999's 41,000 delays.

While the ATC problem is US-wide, some of the worst-hit areas are down the East Coast corridor, as they were last year. An unusually long spell of thunderstorms has helped to underscore the strained capabilities of the ATC system.

Air Transport Association (ATA) president Carol Hallett stresses that it is critical to address the problem because delays are the top complaint of passengers. The ATA is lobbying Congress for money to fund a modernised ATC system, but Hallett acknowledges this will not provide near-term relief and will certainly not prevent the near-gridlock situation that the eastern USA found itself in last summer.

The ATA is embarking on an initiative to work more closely with the FAA to better manage weather-related delays. At a command centre in Virginia, the ATA is providing funds and staff to help back up the FAA's own weather-monitoring staff and to feed information on a 24h basis that notifies airlines ahead of time of anticipated weather problems, especially around major hubs.

All of the major airlines are committed to this co-operative programme, which allows them to make early decisions about how to handle weather problems and to co-ordinate those plans with the FAA.

The spring/summer 2000 programme, as it is being called, also allows for more joint consultation between the airlines and the FAA when working out how best to deal with weather issues. Conference calls are held four times a day between the command centre and representatives of each of the major carriers.

US airlines have also forged an agreement to be allowed to use some military restricted air space during heavy congestion periods and carriers are voluntarily allowing some of their aircraft to fly at lower altitudes on routes of 800km (430nm) or less.

Source: Airline Business