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Military to Release Airspace for Thanksgiving Travel

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2007 – Transportation officials estimate that more than 26 million Americans will travel by air this Thanksgiving season, and the Defense Department is working with aviation officials to ease their flights.

“The military will make available some of its airspace over the East Coast for use by civilian airliners this Thanksgiving,” President Bush announced at the White House, yesterday. “These new routes will help relieve air congestion from Maine to Florida for nearly five full days surrounding the holiday.”

Under the agreement, military airspace above 24,000 feet will open to civilian airliners. The Navy controls most of the airspace affected, officials said.

The service will release airspace off the East Coast, which is typically is used for training Navy and Air Force pilots. Civilian airliners will be allowed to use the airspace from 4 p.m. Nov. 21 to 6 a.m. Nov. 26 -- the heart of the Thanksgiving travel rush.

The military will continue to use airspace below 23,000 feet for training.

“This is a perfect example of the two agencies working together to balance our needs for the benefit of military readiness and the flying public,” Hank Krakowski, chief operating officer of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Organization, said in a release.

Air Force officials said the military routinely releases military airspace for FAA use. Allowing civilian aircraft to use the space, especially along the busy eastern seaboard, helps ease delays.

“For the first time in five years, DoD training and readiness schedules will allow this temporary release of military airspace for civilian use,” said Navy Capt. Steve Riley, chair of the Defense Department’s Policy Board on Federal Aviation Airspace Group. “As a common practice, the Defense Department releases unused airspace, but we’ve never been able to do it on this scale before.”

Opening the airspace is not a cure-all for air travel woes, FAA officials said. They reminded flyers that weather and congestion also affect arrival times.

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