COMMENTS: Flack Attack Hits Max

ABC's scheduled lead story by Lisa Stark (subscription required), arrived aptly, as anchor Charles Gibson put it, "better late than not at all." The story represented a hat trick for the PR flacks at the Federal Aviation Administration, who achieved face time for their boss Marion Blakey on all three newscasts. She used the impending Memorial Day holiday to publicize FAA plans to reduce delays during the summer airline travel season, when early evening thunderstorms are at their most intense.

"The FAA is the first to admit the current system for dealing with bad weather is outdated and inefficient," stated CBS' Nancy Cordes, as Blakey offered airlines the new option of flying a longer route to avoid a storm instead of compulsory delays until a storm clears the direct route. NBC's Tom Costello described the new system as a "computerized airspace flow program." In regional tests last year the option reduced the frequency of delays by 9%. "The airline industry likes having the choice to wait or go."

ABC's Stark cautioned that air traffic control cannot fix all the disruptions: "There is also labor strife in the air," she warned. FAA controlers are complaining that they are short staffed and pilots and flight attendants "are angry over fat bonuses for bosses." Furthermore, the airlines are flying at greater than 80% capacity, so passengers who find their flights canceled are liable to have trouble finding an empty seat on an alternate flight.


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