FAA Plan Would Add Flights, Ease Delays

From the Washington Post

The Federal Aviation Administration plans Tuesday to outline a 10-year air traffic control modernization plan to squeeze 30% more traffic into the commercial aviation system while easing delays and increasing safety by giving pilots better information on weather and the locations of other aircraft.

For the passenger, the plan--if executed properly--will mean better, faster and safer service, the agency said.

After years of poorly executed FAA upgrade programs and a virtual ban on building new runways and airports because of community opposition, long delays and cancellations began rippling through the aviation system in summer 1999. The system is so saturated that one small problem can overwhelm the network.

Under a series of FAA-planned programs, the control of planes in the air and on the ground gradually will shift toward a satellite-based system. The FAA plans to reequip ground-based systems with digital radar and better software and controller displays. It also is counting on weather research that might someday give pilots and controllers as much as six hours' notice to help plan routes around bad weather even before it develops. The best that meteorologists can do now is about one hour.

Controllers and pilots also will have new tools. Controllers, for example, will be able to punch a few keys on a computer keyboard to determine whether an aircraft can take a direct route cross-country rather than follow jet-ways--sometimes called highways in the sky--in a zig-zag pattern that allows controllers to better handle traffic, but adds minutes to flights and wastes millions of gallons of fuel every year.

The plan should help controllers and pilots cooperate better.

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