Air travelers should see improvements

WASHINGTON (AP) The Federal Aviation Administration plans to spend the next decade introducing new equipment, new runways and new air routes to reduce flight delays.

The FAA plan makes a series of adjustments to allow more planes to land, take off and fly from place to place. The plan was developed with the airlines, the air traffic controllers' union and others in the aviation industry. The improvements are projected to cost $11.5 billion.

The plan comes at a time when passengers are complaining in record numbers and members of Congress are holding hearings and introducing bills to try to reduce delays.

''They have the cooperation and collaboration of the users of the system, the air traffic controllers who are the managers of the system and the flying public's undivided attention about the need for change to the system,'' said John Carr, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.

''Until now, everything the FAA did was under the radar,'' Carr said. ''This is pretty much front and center on everyone's mind.''

One in every four flights was delayed or canceled last year, and airline flights are projected to rise from almost 26 million in 2000 to 36 million in 2012.

''Air travelers are experiencing increasing flight delays and cancellations from a growing imbalance between their demand and the ability of the system to handle the air traffic,'' said the FAA report, scheduled to be released Wednesday.

Rather than relying on untested new technology to completely overhaul the air traffic control system, the FAA proposal calls for:

Using satellites, rather than radar, to track airplanes.

Giving pilots and controllers more freedom to route planes through the sky, rather than following fixed paths.

Using newer equipment that will allow airports to detect storms earlier, giving officials more time to reroute airplanes and reducing weather-related delays.

Allowing planes to fly closer together than the current 2,000 feet.

In addition, new runways are planned at 15 major airports by 2010.

Already, the FAA has redesigned parts of the air space in the triangle reaching from Boston to Washington to Chicago, where many bottlenecks occur, and is rerouting some flights through Canadian air space or areas formerly reserved for military planes.

A spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the trade group for the major airlines, praised the FAA's proposals while saying there is more to be done.

''We do still have work to accomplish in order to meet the demands expected to be imposed upon the air traffic system,'' spokesman Michael Wascom said.

Boeing is scheduled to present its proposal for a satellite-based air traffic control system Wednesday. The aerospace giant created a separate unit last November to develop such a system.

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