HERNDON, Va. (AP) _ The Federal Aviation Administration marked the beginning of the summer travel season with new steps to reduce airline delays.
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey came to the nation's air traffic control center here Friday to outline the agency's latest efforts to make the planes fly on time, from new air routes to more frequent weather updates.
``If the weather cooperates, travelers should arrive at their destinations on time,'' Garvey said, speaking on the day before the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff of the summer travel season.
Garvey said there were no specific terrorist threats against U.S. airlines. She reminded passengers that they needed to get to airports earlier than in the past because of new airline security measures imposed following the terrorist attacks.
``The heightened security measures mean it will take a little longer to get through the airport,'' Garvey said.
Once the planes are aloft, they can take advantage of new routes through Canadian air space, through areas formerly reserved for the military, and over the Atlantic Ocean for north-south East Coast flights, such as Boston to Miami.
The extra paths will allow airplanes to fly around thunderstorms, rather than have to be held on the ground at airports.
``Some weather is just plain unsafe,'' Garvey said. ``But we can manage severe weather operations better.''
There are also new routes to help reduce congestion in the New York-Washington-Chicago triangle.
In addition, the FAA plans to provide airlines and controllers with updated weather reports every two hours rather than every four hours, allowing them to react quicker to storms, Garvey said.
And new technology allows FAA officials to more accurately project the paths and intensity of thunderstorms, meaning controllers can more quickly allow planes to take off and land rather than delay them to wait to see where the storm is headed, said Jack Kies, an FAA program director.
While there are still fewer passengers flying this year as compared with the same period in 2001, the number of flights is close to pre-Sept. 11 levels, Garvey said. At such major airports as Chicago O'Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth and Atlanta, the number of flights at certain times is even greater than last year, she said.
Indeed, Kies said he expected more passengers to fly this summer than last year. In March, the FAA's annual forecast projected that air travel wouldn't return to pre-Sept. 11 levels until 2003.
The AAA, meanwhile, expects 4.1 million airline passengers over the Memorial Day weekend, down 7 percent from the 4.4 million who flew in 2001. And the Air Transport Association reported that 43.7 million passengers flew the major U.S. airlines last month, down 13 percent from 50.3 million in April 2001.