This holiday season is forecast to be the busiest travel period ever with passengers crossing the country in cars, trains, and planes. But did you know that every day, the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization (ATO) provides service to more than 42,000 flights and 2.5 million airline passengers across more than 29 million square miles of airspace?
Some other facts about the world of air traffic:
• At any given moment there are more than 5,000 aircraft traversing the U.S. skies.
• The FAA is a year-round 24/7 operation, responsible for 5.3 million square miles of U.S. domestic airspace and 24 million square miles of U.S. airspace over the oceans.
• There are 43,290 average daily flights in and out of the U.S.
• More than 14,000 air traffic controllers manage traffic from many of the FAA’s 700 facilities.
• Fifty-five hundred airway transportation system specialists maintain more than 70,000 pieces of equipment.
• Aviation contributes $1.6 trillion annually to the U.S. economy and constitutes 5.1 percent of the gross domestic product.
• Aviation generates 10 million jobs in the U.S. annually.
•Inclement weather, including thunderstorms, snowstorms, wind shear, icing and fog, creates potentially hazardous conditions in the nation’s airspace system.
•These conditions are, by far, the largest cause of flight delays. In an average year, inclement weather is the reason for nearly 70 percent of all delays.
•Delays translate into real costs for the airlines and the flying public. Currently, the cost to an airline for an hour of delay ranges from about $1,400 to $4,500, with the value of passenger time ranging from $35 to $63 per hour. This means that delays cost the airlines and their passengers billions of dollars each year.
•Each kind of inclement weather presents challenges to the FAA’s air traffic control operation, but perhaps the most disruptive are the convective storms that strike in the summer. Winter storms, while potentially dangerous, often form and move slowly. By contrast, summer storms typically form, grow and move swiftly, covering large swaths of airspace. Many start in the Ohio Valley and move east, impacting air travel in the Northeast, particularly New York.
•Approximately one-third of all flights in the U.S. “touch” New York, flying to or from JFK, LaGuardia and Newark, connecting with those flights or transiting New York airspace, so severe weather impacting New York has a ripple down effect over the entire country.
How the FAA mitigates the impact of weather:
•FAA air traffic controllers can’t control Mother Nature, but they have a wide range of tools to mitigate Mother Nature’s impact on the flying public.
•These tools are used at the agency’s Command Center in Warrenton, VA, which balances air traffic demand with system capacity on a nationwide scale, at Air Route Traffic Control Centers (ARTCC), which handle high altitude traffic, at Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities, which handle traffic around busy airports, and at airport towers.
•They include ground stops, which keep aircraft on the ground when air traffic control is unable to safely accommodate additional aircraft in the system, ground delays, in which aircraft are delayed at their departure airport in order to manage demand and capacity at their arrival airport, and Severe Weather Avoidance Plans, which minimize the impact of a large scale storm by easing traffic demand in portions of airspace impacted by the storm.