Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Newest Weapon against Delays: Low-Altitude Flights ; Some Airliners Are Now Cruising at Lower Levels, Letting Air- Traffic Controllers Pack More Planes in the Sky

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Newest Weapon against Delays: Low-Altitude Flights ; Some Airliners Are Now Cruising at Lower Levels, Letting Air- Traffic Controllers Pack More Planes in the Sky

Article excerpt

In this summer of everpresent flight delays, complaint-saturated airlines are finding that less altitude can mean less attitude.

An FAA policy change is now allowing commercial airliners to fly 6,000 to 17,000 feet lower than usual to ease congestion at airports. In essence, the new rules let air-traffic controllers pack more planes into the air after bad-weather delays.

While airline passengers might not relish the thought of looking out their windows and seeing the ground closer than normal, officials say there's no safety risk - and only a slight chance of a bumpier ride. Critics counter that it will simply shift the delays from the ground to the air, as planes circle while waiting for a limited number of landing slots.

But with passengers exasperated by hours of delays in terminals and on runways, airlines are increasingly flying the lower routes to get passengers off the ground on time.

It "has already made a significant difference on several occasions where bad weather was experienced," says Elizabeth Isham Cory, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). "The controllers definitely see this as a benefit, because they are able to move traffic."

Airliners normally fly at 24,000 to 35,000 feet because the air at that altitude is thinner and fuel costs are therefore lower. But officials say there are only a few lanes open in that "highway in the sky."

After a prolonged thunderstorm at an airport, these highways aren't big enough to handle all the planes that need to use it. By allowing flights at 18,000 to 23,000 feet, another lane is opened, and more aircraft can be pumped into the skies.

Airlines including American, United, Delta, and Northwest have begun using the new thoroughfares, called Low Altitude Arrival/ Departure Routes, or LAADR (pronounced "ladder"), despite the cost.

The reason: passengers. Lots of them.

Last year saw 664.5 million passengers - the largest number in the history of the industry. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.