By Mary Kirby in Philadelphia

US Federal Aviation Administration officials as expected have started phasing in a programme designed to significantly reduce flight delays in capacity-constrained areas across the country's national airspace system.

In a briefing today at the FAA’s headquarters in Washington, DC administrator Marion Blakey says the agency is launching the new airspace flow programme (AFP) now “to address flight delays caused by summer weather and travel patterns”.

The agency in an April advisory circular announced plans to implement the program, which allows controllers to issue an expected departure clearance time (EDCT) to aircraft that are expected to pass through air space affected by bad weather.

Once issued an EDCT notice, the pilot will hold the aircraft position until instructed by air traffic control to continue and be safely metered through the constrained area.

During the first year, the programme may be used at six locations marked by boundary lines for high altitude en route centres in the east, southeast and Midwest, says the FAA.

“This programme allows us to work around severe weather in highly congested airspace with greater precision and efficiency than in the past,” says Blakey. “As a result, we will cut delays, keep passengers safe and make summer travel easier.”

According to Blakey, if the AFP is used just 10 times in 2006, it will result in cost benefits to the airlines and the flying public of approximately $20 million.

She adds that over 10 years, the programme is expected to save airlines and travellers a combined total of over $900 million.

Source: Flight International