Weather foils FAA systems
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Jul 26, 2000
New technology the Federal Aviation Administration is using to reduce airline
delays is not to blame for the frustrating increase in delays air travelers
experienced last month, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said Tuesday.
The FAA just can't control the weather, and the fact that the National
Airspace System is operating at capacity isn't helping matters either, Garvey
told the Senate Appropriations Committee's Transportation Subcommittee.
In March, President Clinton and the FAA announced a new initiative that
increases coordination among air traffic controllers, FAA planners and the
airline industry by making use of collaborative decision-making tools to
create daily plans based on updated weather information. New databases were
created to share data on airline schedules and get the most recent National
Weather Service predictions.
Despite the initiative, air travel delays in June totaled 48,448, a
16.5 percent increase over June 1999. Weather-related delays increased more
than total delays, accounting for 79 percent of all delays in June. Delays
caused by outages in air traffic control equipment were down 78.8 percent
to 242, according to the FAA.
The collaborative approach is making a difference, Garvey said.
"Some airlines have informed me that even with the increase in severe
weather days so far this year, our collaborative efforts enabled them to
better plan and execute operations in advance of the severe weather," she
The airlines, controllers and FAA strategic planners start the day with
a clear plan based at the Air Traffic System Command Center in Herndon,
Va. That plan is updated every two hours until 10 p.m., based on updated
weather information from the National Weather Service.
Airlines and the FAA are cooperating on daily plans, but the Transportation
Department needs a unified system for collecting causal data and reporting
a complete picture of the causes of delays and cancellations from pre-gate
departure to arrival, said Kenneth Mead, DOT's inspector general.
Mead discussed the results of an IG audit report on flight delays and
cancellations released July 25. The FAA and Bureau of Transportation Statistics
keep separate records of flight delays and have different methods for determining
what data to collect from airlines and differ on what constitutes a delay,
"Air carriers blame much of the cause of delays on what they see as
an antiquated air traffic control system that has failed to keep pace with
demand. The Federal Aviation Administration points primarily to weather
and flight volume," Mead said. "The lack of consistent and complete data
has only fueled this debate — with the traveling public experiencing the
result of delayed or canceled flights."
Mead suggested a feasible solution would be to create a common language
between the airlines and FAA and an agreed-upon system for tracking the
causes of delays and cancellations.
A "concrete" suggestion came from Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who noted
that even as more flights are added, no new airports are built in the United
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) stressed the need for reforms, such as
"highways" in the sky for jets of varying speeds. But technology that helps
controllers get a better picture of the airspace situation is needed first,
"Over time, new air traffic control system technologies will allow reduced
separation standards and will ease congestion somewhat, but I think we should
beware of regarding technology as a panacea," Shelby said. "Rather, we should
view technology for what it is: a long-term tool to grow capacity on an