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New System To Fight Air Traffic

April 15, 1998

ABOARD AUSTRIAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 502 (AP) _ Some time after the end of April, this Austrian Airlines jet will fly where it has never flown before.

Other airliners across Europe will be doing the same thing: flying along newly created lanes in the sky to cut air traffic delays, save fuel and reduce passenger and pilot frustration.

In the cockpit of his A310 Airbus, flying through the night from New York to Vienna, Capt. Othmar Ambrosch unfolds a map of Europe’s current air traffic corridors: a mass of twisting, turning routes, often converging in bottlenecks that delay flights at key times of the day.

Then he opens a map of some of the new planned routes. They are straighter, offer more alternates for busy days and require less checking in with ground controllers when crossing Europe’s many national boundaries.

``Instead of this mess we’ve seen before, there are more streamlined routes now,″ Ambrosch said. ``It saves time. It saves fuel.″

Aviation experts think the new routes, to be phased in over several years starting April 23, are coming just in time. Six million flights passed through European airspace in 1996. The ``low-side″ estimate for 2000 is 7.5 million, 10.5 million for 2010 and 14.5 million for 2020, according to Eurocontrol, the European Community’s air traffic coordinating agency in Brussels.

The new system, which some planes have been using already, are designed to increase the continent’s air traffic capacity by at least 30 percent.

Eurocontrol says the routes will, in particular, ease bottlenecks near Brussels, Belgium; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Frankfurt, Germany; Geneva and Zurich, Switzerland; Reims and Perpignon, France; Graz and Linz, Austria; and near the Greek-Bulgarian and Turkish-Bulgarian borders.

The new system is called RNAV, for ``area navigation.″ Its advantage is that RNAV corridors can start, stop and turn at any point that makes sense for air traffic.

At present, most routes must run over and around a limited number of radio signals from land-based navigational stations, because such signals are the only ones some aircraft can identify and use. The result is corridors that twist and turn, and that don’t go directly to where modern-day airlines fly most often.

Using the new routes will be easy for equipment already installed on many modern planes. Planes with less modern equipment must be re-equipped by April 23 to be able to fly to and from any point an RNAV route might involve.

For instance, a 19-year-old, Russian-built Yak-40 jet used by Hemus Air, a small Bulgarian carrier, will be upgraded with a new satellite guidance system to handle RNAV navigation, flight engineer Dimo Chonkov said aboard a recent flight.

``It’ll be much better,″ he said of the RNAV corridors. ``There’ll be more routes, and we’ll have faster times.″

RNAV alone won’t solve Europe’s air traffic problems. Alexander Hendriks, the chief of Eurocontrol’s Airspace and Navigation Division, said planners also are experimenting with redesigning airports for more efficiency; reducing the vertical distance between planes; letting pilots design their own air corridors; and using computers to identify conflicting flight paths as much as 30 minutes before planes come dangerously close.

In the United States, which has half the world’s aircraft and air traffic problems of its own, air traffic planners are not relying mainly on creating new routes.

They are concentrating on new computer programs _ including software that will plan and track flights more efficiently and calculate the optimum order for planes to land _ and on giving airlines more discretion to design their own straight-line, fuel-saving flight plans.

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