WASHINGTON – With a record number of flights expected this summer, the Federal Aviation Administration said Wednesday that it would expand the use of a strategy to minimize weather-related delays in air traffic. The strategy, called the airspace flow program, allows airlines to choose between flying longer routes to avoid stormy weather or accepting delays that are aggravating for travelers and costly for the industry. “If your flight isn’t scheduled to fly through bad weather, you don’t have to sit on the tarmac,” FAA Administrator Marion Blakey said in a written statement. “If it is, your airline has the choice of taking a delay … or flying around the storm.” The program was introduced last year in seven high-air-traffic regions in the Northeast, reducing delays due to bad weather by 9 percent, the FAA said. This summer the program will be used in 18 regions, including parts of the South and Midwest. The FAA, which developed the program with input from industry representatives, estimated that the program would save $100 million per year in reduced costs for airlines and the public. Sid McGuirk, associate professor of air-traffic management at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., credited the FAA for its pragmatic approach to maintaining high safety standards, while addressing the complaints of airlines and corporate jets whose owners felt that many flights were being grounded unnecessarily. “In years past, they’ve erred on the side of caution, and the users have been screaming,” McGuirk said. “This is a cautious move toward allowing the users to access the system in a way that doesn’t overload the system and doesn’t create a dangerous situation.” However, a union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, says a shortage of air traffic controllers will make summer delays inevitable. “You’ve got to have more controllers,” said Doug Church, spokesman for the controllers union, which is seeking to restart stalled negotiations on a new contract. “They’re going to be working tired.” So far this year, Blakey said, U.S. carriers are off to a tough start, with flight delays up by 13 percent between January and April. The FAA’s actions came as the Air Transport Association, the airline industry’s main trade group, forecast that a record number of airline passengers would fly during the Memorial Day holiday weekend and throughout the summer. For a 10-day period around Memorial Day, the association predicts, 21.4 million passengers worldwide will travel on U.S. airlines, up 3.3 percent from last year. Between June and August, the association forecasts, there will be 209 million passengers, up 3 percent from last year. James May, the group’s president, said airlines “are maximizing their efforts to ensure that operations run smoothly for our customers.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!