A change in weather

The human factor will play the largest role in the Clinton administration's

plan to reduce the number of weather-related delays that plagued air travelers

last summer.

In this case, "human factor," which has become the buzzword of air traffic

system modernization, refers to the partnerships used to craft the new severe-weather

policy and the collaboration between government and industry needed to carry

it out. The policy will be implemented April 1.

"It's a first. We've never had collaborative decision-making," said

Mike McNally, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

"Now airlines would be right there with us in that decision process."

The Spring 2000 Initiative, announced March 10 by President Clinton

and Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, aims to fight delays with better

communication and advanced information technology.

One of the key ingredients is a new collaborative decision-making tool

designed by the National Weather Service, airline meteorologists and the

Federal Aviation Administration. The Collaborative Convective Forecast Product

will allow commercial airline meteorologists, National Weather Service Air

Traffic Weather Service Units and FAA personnel at the National Air Traffic

Control System Command Center in Herndon, Va., to review forecasts over

the Internet several times a day and update routes based on real-time information.

"The whole concept is to have ongoing daily, continuous information,"

McNally said.

Dorothy Haldeman, aviation weather program manager at NWS, said the

new tool offers the airline, weather and aviation officials a chance to

see and offer their opinions on the meteorologists' forecast map as well

as discuss the air traffic plan for the day in an online chat room.

Officials will be able to reconvene throughout the day to update the

forecast, a capability they did not have in the past, she said.

"This couldn't have been done without that kind of technology," Haldeman

said. "It really is the impetus for a lot more collaboration. I don't doubt

that it will improve our forecasting."

Organizations participating in the severe weather initiative include

the Transportation Department, the FAA, the National Air Traffic Controllers

Association, the Air Line Pilots Association, the Air Transport Association

(which represents major airlines), the Airline Dispatchers Federation, the

Defense Department, the National Business Aviation Association and the Regional

Airline Association.

But public-private collaboration may not always be the ideal, particularly

if the private sector already is in the market.

As part of the Spring 2000 Initiative, the FAA will launch a new World

Wide Web site April 3 to provide travelers updated information about weather

conditions and regional air travel delays. However, a similar commercial

site called Trip.com already offers similar information and allows the public

to track flights across the country based on FAA data.

It may be wise for the FAA to outsource a Web site to a commercial firm

that has more expertise with the Web, said George Molaski, chief information

officer of the Transportation Department. Government needs fresh ideas and

is not equipped to move ahead at the speed of the Internet, he said.

Though Clinton noted that Congress has nearly finalized an FAA authorization

bill for $40 billion over three years, he stressed the need for reforms

that go beyond the steps contained in the bill.

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