FAA has holiday plan to free up airspace


In an effort to reduce flight delays, the Federal Aviation Administration will allow commercial aircraft access to military airspace along the East Coast during the Memorial Day weekend, the agency's acting administrator said Thursday.

Commercial planes will be allowed to fly in the airspace from 6 p.m. today until 7 a.m. Tuesday.

The additional airspace will allow airlines to better plan holiday air travel as part of a larger effort to cut down on flight delays in the peak summer travel season, Robert A. Sturgell said.

The FAA is seeking to avoid the gridlock that major U.S. airports suffered last summer, particularly at the New York region's three primary commercial airports. John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports accounted for three-quarters of chronic airline delays, the FAA said.

"This will help ease congestion and delays, which is a boost to the passenger," Sturgell said at a news conference at LaGuardia. "Our goal is to avoid a repeat of last summer."

Sturgell also detailed improved technology to help cut delays nationwide and predicted higher fuel costs could prompt more airlines to eliminate flights.

Nationally, the FAA will increase capacity along the East Coast by reducing the "lateral separation" of aircraft to 50 miles, down from 90 miles.

Better avionics and satellite tracking, which began on the East Coast on April 1, will allow planes flying over the Atlantic to fly closer without reducing safety, Sturgell said.

In instances of weather delays, which account for 70% of flight delays, a new aviation "playbook" will give air traffic controllers alternate routes to send planes around severe weather.

Where possible, aircraft will use military airspace.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), an FAA critic, said air travelers should not have to wait for a holiday to get government help.

"If opening up military airspace is good enough for the holiday weekend, shouldn't we be doing it 365 days a year to give air travelers some yearlong relief?" he said.

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