Reducing delays is one of the biggest challenges facing the FAA. Commercial airline passenger delays in the U.S. amount to approximately $10 billion in delay costs each year. In 2007, 765 million people flew in the U.S. That number is expected to increase to one billion by 2016.
Bad weather causes 70 percent of all delays. The situation is worse during the summer: unlike winter storms, which take time to develop and move slowly, summer storms can form quickly, stretch for hundreds of miles and travel rapidly over large portions of the country, grounding flights and sending chain reaction delays throughout the nations airspace system. In 1998 the FAA began Collaborative Decision Making (CDM), which represented a sea-change in how the FAA communicates with the airlines in order to reduce delays. Prior to CDM, airlines were hesitant to share certain information for competitive reasons. Airlines now share schedule information with the FAAs Command Center in Herndon, VA, including flight delays, cancellations and newly created flights. The Command Center uses this information to monitor airport arrival demand and take steps to reduce delays caused by heavy traffic and severe weather. Telecoms are held every two hours throughout the day between FAA air traffic managers and representatives from the aviation community, including the airlines and general aviation, to discuss problems affecting capacity in the system and decide the most efficient way to handle them.
Western Atlantic RouteSystem This initiative will increase capacity along the East Coast over the Atlantic this summer by reducing lateral separation from 90 miles to 50 miles for aircraft with avionics that provide an appropriate level of accuracy. The area includes parts of Miami and New York high altitude airspace, as well as the San Juan Center Radar Approach Control airspace. In the past, lateral separation in oceanic airspace has been set at 90 miles between aircraft to maintain safe separation. This initiative takes advantage of more precise aircraft position technology to allow for more Atlantic routes, 20 more transition route fixes and ultimately more access to the available airspace. The FAA began using the new procedures on April 1, 2008 and they are scheduled to be fully operational on June 5, 2008. New Playbook Routes New playbook routes will be in place this summer to provide alternate route options during periods of severe weather. Playbook routes are pre-coordinated routes that are developed to route aircraft around convective weather. Nineteen new playbook routes will be available, including four Virginia Capes Area (VACAPES) routes designed for use in military airspace when it is available. Integrated Collaborative Rerouting Tool This is a new automated tool that depicts constrained airspace to airlines and other users of the nations airspace system. The tool is valuable because it allows pilots to provide early intent of their preferred routing around constrained areas like storms. This alleviates the need for the FAA to implement required reroutes, which may be less favorable to the users. It gives the airlines scheduling options and a more efficient utilization of the available airspace. Adaptive Airspace Flow Programs (AFPs) This program was implemented as an enhancement to the Airspace Flow Program that was deployed in June 2006 that enabled the FAA to adjust to changing weather patterns, which is crucial during the summer convective weather season when storms grow rapidly and move across large swaths of the country. This summer, the FAA can adjust the parameters of an AFP based on changing weather intensity, providing a more effective way to manage traffic during severe summer storms that will minimize delays. Using AFPs, the FAA is able to target only those flights that are expected to encounter severe weather. The targeted flights are issued an Expect Departure Clearance Time (EDCT), giving the airlines the option to accept a delayed, but predictable departure time, to take a longer route to fly around the weather or to make alternate plans. Those using the EDCT will be safely metered through the constrained airspace. Last summer the period from May 2 through August 30, 2007 a total of 58 AFPs were used, saving approximately $68 million for the airlines. Before the FAA developed the technology to implement AFPs, the FAAs primary tool to manage delays was to use ground delay programs to prevent aircraft from taking off if they were headed for a delayed airport from any direction. Ground delay programs remain valuable under appropriate circumstances, but sometimes have the unintended consequence of delaying flights that would otherwise not encounter severe weather. AFPs, which focus on particular areas in the sky where severe weather is expected, generally are a more equitable and efficient way of handling flights during severe weather. Adaptive Compression This program, launched in March 2007, automatically identifies unused arrival slots at airports affected by AFP or ground delays and moves other flights into those slots. This means that maximum arrival rates will be maintained, easing congestion and delays. Adaptive Compression saved $27 million for the airlines and 1.1 million delay minutes for the airlines and the flying public in its first year of operation.