Aviation Weather Delays

Aviation Weather Delays

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Weather Delays. We seem to have heard so much more about them in recent years. Is the weather
getting worse? Are the newer planes less able to stand the rough weather than the planes of the
past? Maybe travelers just complain more What is the reason for the 70% increase in flight
delays and 23% increase in cancellations blamed on the weather since 1978? Are the airlines just
using weather as a catch all to cover other problems and keep themselves covered under the
statemeant ”you cant control the weather”. I will attempt to answer these questions along with a
few others in this report but, the question that cannot be escaped from beginning to the end seems
to be Is the weathe rreally that bad?”
Let’s start with why have the flight delays increased so much since 1978.It all seemed like a
good idea at the time, and for many, it still is one of a short list of good ideas to come from the
Federal Government Airline Deregulation . This allowed for more competion between airlines in
more ways than ever before not only could they compete for customers on strictly a customer
service stand point but also for the price of fares and the amount flights offered to the more
popular destinations. Up until this “DEREGULATION”, the Federal Government through the
Department of Transportation strictltly controlled the amount of flights an airline could schedule
and the amount they could charge for these flights. Weather or any other problem could only
have a limited effect on the “flight schedule” as only about one third as many flights were
scheduled then as are scheduled today? Then what is considered by many to be one of a long list
of oversights by The Federal Government nothing was done to the air traffic control system to
account for the inevitable increase in passengers and flights scheduled. Much of the U.S.Air
Traffic Control System was then and is now operating on World War II era technology with most
of the updates coming only as needed to accommodate either the Cold War or NASA. Some
twenty-two years latter the inevitable is now upon us .Consider this in the year of
deregulation(1978) there were 250 million passengers carried by the US airlines in 1999 this
number topped 650 million. All other factors being equal this would result in more passengers
being delayed or canceled just by the growth of travel.
Why does the older equipment cause so many problems ?The main reason is system overload
with no more flexibility available in the system.

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Many passengers can easily become baffled as
they stand in the terminal at JFK in New York looking at clear blue sky out the window and
seeing a clear report from THE WEATHER CHANNEL for their destination city such as Atlanta’s
Hartsfield Airport while hearing over the public address system that their flight is being delayed
for weather. The causes could be many and the effects rippling over to tomorrow’s flight
schedule easily disrupting thousands. How can this be? Lets start with our 8:15AM departure
flight from New York with scheduled 10:25AM Atlanta arrival We will call this flight “A”.. A
small line of thunderstorms developed anywhere along the crowded, narrow airways between
these two cities and flights are going to stop, but not because the storms are so dangerous even if
they were very powerful with heavy rains and severe lightning with deadly microburst and
macroburst and cloud tops reaching some 60,000 feet into the stratosphere it would seem to
many reasonable thinkers and most of our stranded passengers to simply fly around these storms.
So why not? Here is where our outdated Air Traffic Control Systems really shows its age so to
speak. As unbelievable as it seems in this modern age many of the Air traffic only so many
flights would be able to be tracked by any system but, our present system is limited by the
number a planes a given controller can track at a given time. Planes today are also forced to
maintain a specific distance between other aircraft which no one thinks is a bad idea but as many
critics contend this area should be expanded in the vertical and horizontal plane and tightened ,
during such time as severe storms, also the airways (highways in the sky) could be widened to
accommodate the same distance of separation and eliminate the so called “ants in a row”
procession.                Many of today’s modern aircraft have radar avoidance systems far
superior anything available to air traffic controlers. This coupled with onboard weather radar and
lightning indicating systems make the need for such constricted airways obsolete. So the answer
to the question of “Are modern aircraft more susceptible to rough weather?” is an unmistakable
no. Actually quite the opposite is true, if the outdated ground resources were updated than there
would be far fewer delays just by the increased latitude afforded to flight crews to simply fly
around the relatively small storm systems which account for up to 45% of all weather delays.
The Air Traffic Control System Center in Herndon,Va. is the final word when it comes
to airlines getting the go ahead run to take off on routes with trouble along the airways. One
thing that is particularly troubling is the major source of information when comes to weather in
The Air Traffic Control System Center is The Weather Channel .Our pilot for flight A has
almost no latitude to move around these storms after the plane is airborne so flight “A” and its
passengers sit and wait. Even after the storms clear Flight “A” is a long way from off the ground
as any dispatcher from any of the major airlines will tell you now comes the tricky part. You may
get a tentative “clear for Take off” from The Air Traffic Control System Center but at an airport
as busy as J.F.K. you could still be hours from take off due to the huge back log of flights that
have been created by the delays all along the eastern sea board by these small storms.
Now comes the next question. Are many of todays airports inadequate?Thats usually an
airline industry standard to little ramp space, to little tarmac, and not enough room at the
terminal.All of which maybe true but all of which would no doubt be used to capacity in good
weather making this a mote point no matter what the infrastructure of any given airport.           
. Lets say Flight “A” is able to get airborne by12:30 PM well they should be on the ground in
Atlanta by 2:40 P.M. right? Well they maybe should be but don’t you bet on it and here is
why.Unfortunatly for our passengers on flight “A” were not the only ones bound for Atlanta that
were delayed by weather so now they will be placed in a holding pattern 150 miles from Atlanta
only to be moved to a closer and smaller circling pattern 100 miles away this will be repeated at
least 2 more times before they are on the ground. Now comes the ripple effect. Our dispatcher on
the ground is planning to use the crew from flight “A” to continue on to Tampa on a plane
arriving from California whose “crew day”(amount of time Pilots co-pilots and other in air flight
crews are allowed to be on duty in a 24 hour period) is about to expire fresh crew arrived at 9:00
A.M. scheduled to take the aircraft from flight “A” and a new load of passengers in bright
flowered shirts to Hawaii, with an 11:15A.M. take off we will call this flight “H”. Flight
“A”finally arrives in Atlanta at 4:15 P.M.the crew from Flight “A” wont be able to make it to
Tampa before their crew day is over and the crew for flight “H” can’t make Hawaii so the only
option is to send the crew from flight “H” on to Tampa and cancel flight “H”.Not only does this
news come to the dismay off all our flower shirted friends but now a plane scheduled for an early
take off from Hawaii tomorrow morning wont be there and many unhappy passengers bound for
the Continental US wont have a plane when they arrive at the airport in the morning or a hotel
room to go back to as their vacation is undoubtedly over.
Our final question is one that has caused much debate from the world’s leading scientist
down to its many farmers. “Is the weather getting worse?” According to my research the answer
is yes to some degree it is .I believe these changes in our climate are mainly due to what is known
as the “Atmospheric Greenhouse Effect”. The theory basically is the warming of the earth’s
atmosphere by absorbing and emitting infrared radiation while allowing short wave radiation to
pass through coming from the sun and trapping long wave radiation inside thus resulting in an
increase in overall temperature. The primary gases responsible for this inside the earth’s
atmosphere are carbon dioxide and water vapor. These two along with several other trace gases
do not allow energy radiated to Earth by the sun to be returned to space resulting in a net gain of
heat energy leading to a net gain in temperature. This can only result in a climatic change in
major storm systems location and frequency along with the global wind patterns that steer them.
This could easily be the cause of increasing tornadoes and severe thunder storms seen recently
across the continental US and around the world in the past decade. Another factor could be the
cycles of El Nino and La Nina, although these events have been occurring for centuries their
singnifigance and effect on the environment seems magnified in recent years. El Nino an as yet
unexplained warming the south Pacific ocean occurring at irregular intervals between two and
seven years. At first glance this may seem like it would not be a problem for anyone outside of
the geographic area of the South Pacific, but it actually has an effect on weather around the
world. This unusual warming of these tropical waters add increased warmth and moisture to the
atmosphere In the United States for example this can and usually does lead to an increase in rain
fall and thunderstorms. During this same time the jet stream over North America moves further
south than normal thus making, it more difficult for tropical storms to develop in the Western
Atlantic Ocean. However, the increase in the tropical water temp in the South Pacific result in an
increase in tropical storms in that area. La Nina on the other hand is almost the exact opposite
including an unseasonable cooling of the South Pacific waters and an unusual warming of the
tropical waters the Atlantic which increases hurricane activity there
There are clearly no easy answers to the numerous problems causing delays for frustrated
passengers and airline employees alike across the nation, but there are things that can and should
be done for the benefit of everyone. First by even the most conservative estimates the air traffic
control systems need a complete overhaul to bring the dated equipment on the ground up to an
even par with with the new hi-tech jets they track. Second airways can and should be widened to
allow pilots the flexability to simply fly around smaller storm cells to keep traffic moving. Third
airline passengers and flight crews alike would do well to remember this the weather we are
dealing with here and no day of vacation or business trip is so important that the lives of
hundreds aboard a jumbo jet should be risked just to get off the ground on time. Lastly and
perhaps most often lost in the discussion, our planet and its weather systems were not designed
by man, but an almighty creator.With each new understanding there will no doubt be new
complexities better understanding of the weather will no doubt lead to better forecasting and
result in more efficient flight scheduling .Man has his limits and the weather certainly does not,
so as always we will continue to work around it.                              

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