NASA Ames Research Center  + Visit the NASA portal Site Accessibility Notes
 Air Transportation Problem

Response to:
Six Students from Westport Middle School

Katharine Lee
Assistant Branch Chief,
Terminal Area
Air Traffic Management Research Branch
Ames Research Center

Westport Team:

Your idea about delays solves part of the problem (you could give a better, wider estimate of the time you plan to arrive). But in the air transportation system, you often get delays because everyone is trying to be on time, just like during rush hour in the morning or evening when everyone is trying to get to the same places at about the same time, using the same roads. In the air traffic system, we get delays because we have so many aircraft going to the same destinations all trying to arrive at the same time. This tends to make nearly everyone late. Can you think of how you would address that kind of delay situation?

Richard Mogford, Ph.D.
Manager, Human Measures and Performance Project
NASA Ames Research Center

The idea of helping to improve our air transportation system by making it easier to get to and from the airport is a good one. We are trying to do this in another way in our Small Aircraft Transportation System project where we are working to make use of small airplanes operating out of small regional airports. This would help relieve some of the pressure on larger airports. See this web site:

However, your idea would help make the access to and from the larger airports more easy and efficient. The problem with flight delays is that people do not like to wait for their airplane to leave, wait while in the air (if the airplane is put into a holding pattern), or wait for airplanes (e.g., bringing relatives into town) to arrive at the airport. Airlines like to be able tell their customers that they have a predictable schedule. Delays may be caused by bad weather or too many airplanes trying to get to the same place at the same time. You are right in that faster airplanes might help in some cases, but we are also working on ways to route and manage airplane flights better from the air or from the ground. See the first web site below for a demonstration of a flight deck system we are working on that might let pilots fly around weather and other problems more efficiently.

Here is another site to look at:

You could contact David Wing at NASA Langley for more information on the Langley work. Address your questions to:

More or larger runways would help to cut down on delays too. They are expensive to build and sometimes people who live nearby do not like the extra noise! But your ideas of making airports more efficient, improving airplanes, and adding runways are all great ideas that I hope you will keep thinking about.

 FirstGov  NASA
Curator: Allison Pasciuto
NASA Official: Mark León
Last Updated: January 2005
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