Controllers to speed landings at O'Hare

August 2, 2000

BY ROBERT C. HERGUTH TRANSPORTATION REPORTER

Procedures aimed at reducing flight delays by allowing local air traffic controllers to stack certain O'Hare Airport arrivals 60 miles from the airfield will be tested starting this week, officials said Tuesday.

In the short term, testing the Compressed Arrival Procedures could mean slightly shorter flight times for some passengers, and reduced fuel costs for airlines. But the procedures will have a larger impact if tests go well and the program is someday expanded to all four arrival corridors and other airports.

If weather permits, CAP testing will begin today on the corridor that handles flights from the East Coast. The goal is not to jam more flights into O'Hare, which some believe is already too crowded, noisy and unsafe, officials said. The aim, they said, is to get already-scheduled arrivals on the ground more quickly and unclog holding patterns.

When the procedures were tested on a different corridor earlier this year, United Airlines saw an average of four minutes shaved off its flights, said Bob Flynn, traffic management supervisor at the air traffic control center in Elgin. American Airlines saved one and a half to two minutes.

"That doesn't sound like a lot, but when you break it down to fuel and fleet costs . . . it is a substantial amount of money," he said. And passengers "don't have to run as fast between the gates," added Gordon Woodahl, the assistant air traffic manager at the Elgin facility.

Earlier this year, the controllers' union complained that testing shouldn't resume until bogus radar images referred to as "ghosts" were eradicated from controllers' scopes. The Federal Aviation Administration put off the tests initially scheduled for June, and computer fixes caused the ghosts to subside.

The procedures will work like this: If wind and weather permit, controllers at Aurora's air traffic control facility will stack inbound aircraft when they are about 60 miles out. They will be put at 10,000 and 11,000 feet until about 40 miles out, when the Elgin facility takes over. Planes will then be put on separate routings, probably destined for different runways. As it now stands, planes arrive in a single line.

The procedures, which were developed by the controllers' union, will be used at times when "demand is less than capacity," Flynn said. They allow controllers to better utilize O'Hare runways and airspace, and balance workloads, he said. Horizontal separation of planes will remain the same.

The testing usually will occur at 5 p.m. and last 45 minutes to an hour.

FAA officials said the testing should not increase noise.