Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Airlines Starting to Use Low-Altitude Flights to Ease Delays

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Airlines Starting to Use Low-Altitude Flights to Ease Delays

Article excerpt

DALLAS -- In a travel season rife with late arrivals and canceled flights, several airlines have begun flying at lower altitudes, trading fuel efficiency for on-time arrivals.

The FAA more than a year ago gave airlines approval to operate some short flights -- up to 500 miles -- at between 8,000 feet and 23,000 feet. But airlines had resisted until recently because flying through denser air at lower altitudes burns more fuel.

But with thousands of flight delays drawing the ire of travelers and the eye of federal regulators, more airlines are turning to this quick fix.

After meeting with airline, union and airport executives Monday, Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater announced the formation of a task force to monitor airline service.

Slater said his department will serve as a clearinghouse to share information, resulting in improved performance. For example, Slater said, airlines have promised to more promptly inform the Federal Aviation Administration when they cancel flights, so air traffic controllers can more efficiently use the available airspace.

Some 670 million Americans will fly this year, up 20 million from a year ago and an increase that is taxing the system and could not have been foreseen, Slater said.

The Federal Aviation Administration reported more than 44,000 flight delays in July alone, and that was an improvement from June. Delays have been attributed to increased numbers of people traveling, bad weather and -- at least for one airline -- labor disagreements.

Though it costs more in fuel, airline officials say the low-altitude routes allow them to complete more flights on time, cutting the need for relief crews.

Because flight patterns at high-altitude, fuel-saving routes have become congested, Low Altitude Arrival Departure Routes -- called "ladder" flights in the industry -- are designed to allow planes to "get off the ground instead of waiting in queue," said FAA spokesman Paul Turk.

Northwest Airlines, TWA, Delta, Continental and US Airways tested the routes in some cities this spring. At Chicago's busy O'Hare International Airport, United Airlines began rerouting some departing planes to underused, lower-altitude flight paths in June. …

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