For Immediate Release

May 22, 2008
Contact: Paul Takemoto
Phone: (202) 267-3883


Reducing delays is one of the biggest challenges facing the FAA. Commercial airline passenger delays in the U.S. amount to approximately $10 billion in delay costs each year. The problem is exacerbated by increasing airline traffic. In 2007, 270 million people flew in the U.S. That number is expected to increase to one billion by 2015, and to double and possibly triple by 2025.

Bad weather causes 70 percent of all delays. The situation is worse during the summer: unlike winter storms, which take time to develop and move slowly, summer storms can form quickly, stretch for hundreds of miles and travel rapidly over large portions of the country, grounding flights and sending chain reaction delays throughout the nation’s airspace system. The following charts show summer (June through August) delays nationwide during the 2000, 2006 and 2007.

YearTotal DelaysWeather DelaysAverage Delay (minutes)
2000142,437107,59050.27
2006142,249102,24943.55
2007166,388123,85147.70

This fact sheet is a summary of the major steps the FAA has taken to reduce delays. These measures are above and beyond the day-to-day actions taken by air traffic controllers to keep traffic flowing through localized events that impact capacity, such as low ceilings and runway construction.

Airspace Flow Programs (AFPs)

Airspace Flow Programs, which began in June 2006, are a new way of managing air traffic during severe weather. With AFPs, the FAA for the first time is able to target only those flights that are expected to encounter severe weather. Those flights are issued an Expect Departure Clearance Time (EDCT), giving the airlines the option to accept the EDCT or make alternate plans. Those using the EDCT will be safely metered through the constrained airspace.

Last summer — the period from May 2 through August 30 — AFPs saved approximately $68 million for the airlines. The program saved approximately $2.7 million per day.

The main difference between ground delay programs and AFPs is that ground delay programs focus on particular airports and AFPs focus on particular areas in the sky. Ground delay programs, which remain valuable under appropriate circumstances, sometimes have the unintended consequence of delaying flights that would otherwise not encounter severe weather. AFPs, in general, are a more equitable and efficient way of handling flights during severe weather.

A total of 58 AFPs were deployed last summer. Of these, 41 were what are called “classic” AFPs with predetermined boundaries, and 17 were dynamic.

The FAA is now able to adapt AFPs to adjust to changing weather patterns, which is crucial during the convection season when storms grow rapidly and move across large swaths of the country. Static AFPs are valuable to our customers because they’re better able to arrange for alternate routes. But AFPs need to be able to adapt to changing conditions. The FAA can now adjust the parameters of an AFP based on changing weather intensity, providing a more effective way to manage traffic during severe summer storms.

Adaptive Compression

This program, launched in March 2007, automatically identifies unused arrival slots at airports affected by AFP or ground delays and moves other flights into those slots. This means that maximum arrival rates will be maintained, easing congestion and delays.

Adaptive Compression saved $27 million for the airlines and 1.1 million delay minutes for the airlines and the flying public in its first year of operation.

Western Atlantic RouteSystem

WATRS Plus, as it is known, will increase capacity over the Atlantic this summer by reducing lateral separation to 50 miles for aircraft with avionics that provide an appropriate level of accuracy. It includes parts of Miami and New York en route airspace, as well as the San Juan Center Radar Approach Control airspace.

Lateral separation is typically set at 90 miles between aircraft. WATRS Plus will allow for more Atlantic routes, twenty more transition route fixes and ultimately more customer access to the available airspace.

New Playbook Routes

New playbook routes will be in place this summer to provide route options during severe weather. Playbook routes are pre-coordinated routes that are developed to avoid areas of convective weather. Nineteen new playbook routes will be available, including four Virginia Capes Area (VACAPES) routes designed for use in military airspace when it is available.

Integrated Collaborative Rerouting Tool

This is a new automated tool that depicts constrained airspace to airlines and other users of the nation’s airspace system. The tool is valuable because it allows our customers to provide early intent of their preferred routing around constrained areas like storms. This alleviates the need for the FAA to implement required reroutes, which may be less favorable to the airlines. So it gives the airlines scheduling options and a more efficient utilization of the available airspace.

Collaborative Decision Making

Collaborative Decision Making (CDM), which began in 1998, represents a sea-change in how the FAA communicates with the airlines in order to reduce delays. Prior to CDM, airlines were hesitant to share certain information due to competitive reasons. Airlines now share schedule information with the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Va., including flight delays, cancellations and newly created flights.

The Command Center uses this information to monitor airport arrival demand and take steps to reduce delays caused by heavy traffic and severe weather. Telecoms are held every two hours throughout the day between FAA air traffic managers and representatives from the aviation community, including the airlines and general aviation, to discuss problems affecting capacity in the system and decide the most efficient way to handle them.

Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM)

With Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum, which went into effect in 2005, the FAA doubled the number of high-altitude airspace routes between 29,000 feet and 41,000 feet, thus giving pilots and air traffic controllers additional choices by allowing aircraft to fly more direct routes at the most fuel-efficient altitudes. The change saves time and money for airlines and the flying public.

With RVSM, the minimum vertical separation between aircraft reduced from 2,000 to 1,000 feet. This adds capacity while still maintaining the highest level of safety because most aircraft are now equipped with advanced, more precise altimeters and autopilots. Aircraft must be properly equipped, even though nearly all commercial jets comply with RVSM requirements. While vertical minimum separation has been reduced, aircraft still must stay at least 5.75 miles away from planes at the same altitude.

RVSM has been implemented safely over the last seven years from Europe to Australia and over most of the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

RVSM is expected to save the airlines $5.3 billion annually through 2016, a conservative estimate considering the increase in jet fuel since 2003.

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