FAA launches faster, high-altitude flight routes to avoid congestion along the East Coast

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A United Airlines plane taxis at Newark Liberty International Airport, in Newark, New Jersey, on Jan. 11, 2023.
Kena Betancur | AFP | Getty Images

The Federal Aviation Administration has launched nearly 170 new flight routes that are shorter and faster, aiming to cut down on congestion in the eastern U.S.

It’s part of a seven-year effort from the FAA and airlines to redraw high-altitude route maps for planes, the agency said Monday.

The FAA launched the 169 new routes last week, and is abandoning older ones, which were longer and zigzagged more. Those longer routes were designed for planes relying on ground-based radar and not the GPS that modern aircraft use. The new ones will be more direct.

The new paths are mostly above 18,000 feet, when aircraft are cruising, and aim to reduce crowding on popular routes. Some of the new routes are over the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

“The change helps prevent delays by giving the agency more capacity to direct traffic to specific routes based on the aircraft’s destination,” the FAA said in a release. “When weather occurs, controllers will also have more flexibility. Finally, fewer converging points and more simple flows enhance safety.”

The FAA estimated that the new routes would reduce about 6,000 minutes of travel time a year.

FAA

The change comes just before the summer travel season, which airline executives expect to be busy. Pressure from the airline industry has mounted on the FAA to address congestion and delays, though airline staffing issues have also played a role in exacerbating disruptions.

Last year, 1.7 million flights, more than 20% of those operated by U.S. airlines, were delayed, up from 1.5 million, or roughly 16% of flights, in 2019, before the pandemic, according to flight-tracking site FlightAware. So far this year, 22% of U.S.-airline operated flights have been delayed, according to the site’s data.

Some of the new routes are for flights to and from Florida, where airlines face obstacles such as frequent thunderstorms, military activity and space launches. Last month, the FAA said it would take airline flight disruptions into account when approving rocket launches.

“American has long been a proponent of unlocking additional high-altitude routes along the East Coast and we are optimistic they will have significant benefits for our customers and team members,” American Airlines COO David Seymour said in an e-mailed statement.

Separately, several airlines including JetBlue Airways and United Airlines are reducing flights in the New York City and Washington, D.C., areas because of the FAA’s shortage of air traffic controllers, part of a plan to reduce disruptions.

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