FAA's spring plan clears the air

Technology that will bring better information to pilots, air traffic controllers and airline passengers is a top priority in a plan announced Friday by President Clinton and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.

The Spring 2000 Initiative, designed to reduce weather-related air traffic delays this spring and summer, began March 12 and will be fully phased in April 1. The FAA, airlines and air traffic controllers collaborated on the plan in response to record numbers of delays because of severe thunderstorms in the summer of 1999.

The initiative gives the Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Va., increased authority to develop national plans in cooperation with airlines for routing aircraft around problem areas.

Monte Belger, the FAA's acting deputy administrator, said the keys to the plan will be:

    * Internet access to accurate weather information using a new forecast tool.

    * Online portals for weather data to be used by the FAA, airlines, controllers and travelers.

A product developed by the National Weather Service's Aviation Weather Center, airline meteorologists and the FAA will provide weather outlooks of up to six hours to help flight officials route planes around thunderstorms. The Collaborative Convective Forecast Product allows nationwide severe storm forecasts to be graphically enhanced and reviewed over the Internet by commercial airline meteorologists, NWS Air Traffic Weather Service Units and FAA personnel at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center.

A shared database of current flight information will enable the FAA and airlines to collaborate on plans and decision-making several times a day. In the past, those decision-makers used a chat room that often was cumbersome, said Dorothy Haldeman, program manager for aviation weather at NWS.

A World Wide Web site (www.fly.faa.gov) will be launched April 3 to give travelers real-time information about weather and air traffic disruptions. The FAA also will work with the Defense Department to allow use of military airspace in severe weather situations.

The FAA is taking "all the right security measures" for the two Web-based activities, Belger said. The new site designed for flight officials will not be linked to the FAA's operational system, he said.


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