DOT report hails air traveler aid

"Best Practices for Improving the Air Travel Experience"

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The Transportation Department released a report Wednesday highlighting agency and industry efforts to provide travelers with more accurate and timely information about airline delays.

Among the efforts DOT cited was its own Spring/Summer 2000 Initiative, which used new technology and collaborative decision-making tools to provide updated weather forecasts to the Federal Aviation Administration, air traffic controllers and airlines. It also used the Internet to present updated information about delays to the public.

DOT also applauded airlines' efforts to use wireless communications and Internet terminals to give passengers direct access to information as well as new computer programs to aid in rescheduling passengers on new flights.

The report, "Best Practices for Improving the Air Travel Experience," was released by DOT at the International Transportation Symposium Oct. 9-12 in Washington, D.C.

In late August, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater formed a task force to produce the report on best practices by airlines and airports. Francisco Sanchez, assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs, was the task force chairman.

"Accurate, timely information plays a key role in reducing the impact of flight delays on air travelers," Sanchez said during a symposium panel discussion Wednesday. "New collaborative approaches must be found to ensure the national aviation system has the capacity to meet the demands that will be placed upon it."

For instance, the FAA's Spring/Summer 2000 Initiative uses new software called the Collaborative Convective Weather Forecast tool from the National Weather Service and creates a common database of information and weather forecast tools for all participants, collaborative decision-making tools, new planning and operational procedures, and a Web site (www.fly.faa.gov) with real-time information on air traffic conditions at major airports.

The report also detailed several airline initiatives that provide flight information directly to passengers using such technology as the Internet, pagers, cellular phones, e-mail and other personal communications devices.

The report recommended further ways to accommodate customer concerns, such as:

    * Making the daily weather forecasts available to passengers on airport or airline monitors.

    * Creating a customer services lab as part of Vice President Al Gore's National Performance Review.

    * Enhancing airline Web sites to link to updated information from DOT and the FAA.

While DOT and airline efforts to ease customer frustrations are helpful, other actions need to be taken at the root of the problem, which is the lack of capacity on the ground and in the air, said Peter Challan, deputy associate administrator for Air Traffic Services at FAA. A key area is to create more capacity in the airspace by continuing to modernize the air traffic control system with new technology, he said.

In the long-term, the FAA must move to satellite-based navigation to allow airports to operate as if the weather is clear even when visibility is low, Challan said.

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