Air Transport World

Getting there faster and cheaper. (The National Route Program; includes related article on Delta Airlines Inc's fuel-conservation program)

The National Route Program, a forerunner of Free Flight, can save fuel and aircraft time

NEW YORK-- With airlines scrutinizing all expenses, including oncesacrosanct costs such as travel-agent commissions, the opportunity to fly a route faster and burn less fuel without having to invest in a new airplane is turning heads. A dramatic expansion of the National Route Program, as well as discussion about the Free Flight system--increasing aircraft route-selection authority--are spurring the industry's efforts to cut operating costs (ATW, 5/95).

"It's a start," said Michael Boyd, president of Aviation Systems Research Corp. in Golden, Colo., who has been beating the Free Flight drum for years. "But it depends on how far NRP and Free Flight are expanded. NRP was already there but it was static, and now, it has expanded. It can make a huge difference in the airlines' bottom lines."

A major enhancement to NRP was launched in January, when the U.S. FAA announced that commercial aircraft at 39,000 ft.or above, and more than 200 mi. from arrival and departure stations could fly any route the airline chose. By summer, in a series of staged enhancements, the flight levels were reduced to 35,000 ft. east of the Mississippi River and 33,000 ft. west of it. Then, FAA announced a moratorium through October, to analyze the program's recent results.

Jack Ryan, vice president of air-traffic management for the Air Transport Assn., says: "Up to the moratorium, we'd been very happy with the results. After FAA has had a look-see at NRP's impact on the workload for controllers, we hope to help them to the next stage."

Ryan says the ATA's efforts to reduce fuel costs have been tied to ATC. The 3-pronged strategy: Implementing NRP, developing the Managed Arrival Reservoir (MAR) program and working with FAA to cancel burdensome ATC restrictions.

ATA has formed a group comprising operations executives from the nation's six largest carriers and tasked it with studying and developing practical suggestions for fuel savings. Ryan notes that the airlines' problems are remarkably similar, whether centered in Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta or Minneapolis. ATA estimates that NRP alone will save its members $40 million a year. …

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