CHICAGO (AP) â€” Citing safety concerns, the nation's largest pilots union asked its members to refuse to perform a type of landing procedure aimed at speeding up takeoffs and landings.
The Air Line Pilots Association's move could mean major delays for air travelers during the Memorial Day weekend, one of the busiest travel periods of the year.
The pilots have been fighting a plan by the Federal Aviation Administration that would have expanded use of the landing procedure beginning Saturday. The FAA announced Wednesday that it has postponed that plan.
The debate centers around ``land and hold short'' operations that have allowed for faster takeoffs and landings at major airports across the country.
The procedure is used when intersecting runways are active, with a plane cleared to land on one and another plane ready to take off on the other.
Under ``land and hold short,'' pilots who are landing can agree to ``hold short,'' or stop before the intersection of the runways, rather than taxiing straight to the gate. As a result, air traffic controllers can more quickly clear the plane to depart from the other runway.
``That tool allows us to land and depart airplanes very quickly,'' said Craig Burzych, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. ``If we lose it, the efficiency of the airport is going to suffer greatly.''
The procedure has been used at O'Hare for more than 30 years. It is also used at other international airports in Boston, Miami and New York. The FAA says it has no precise figures on usage because the practice is voluntary and depends on runway length as well as volume. Burzych said the procedure can double departure rates.
The FAA wanted to expand the practice to general aviation and foreign flights and to dozens more airports beginning Saturday.
``From our point of view, we'll request it and just continue to do our jobs'' to assure all landings are safe, FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said today.
The industry and the FAA had until Saturday to draft and test guidelines that would be used when a pilot aborts a landing and then has to avoid hitting a departing aircraft. The union says the FAA has not ``adequately'' tested the aborted-landing guidelines.
The FAA had said the ``land and hold short'' procedure would be halted at any airport that hasn't completed the testing by then. Controllers at O'Hare had said that without an extension, there would be serious delays.
While that extension was granted by the FAA on Wednesday, the union's action could mean delays anyway. The union represents 58,000 pilots at 50 U.S. and Canadian airlines, including United, Delta and TWA. And although it is unclear how many pilots will honor the boycott, Chris Blum, a regional air traffic manager for the FAA, said the drop-off in the use of the procedure would result in delays at O'Hare.