Airlines Shift Some U.S.-Asia Flights as Solar Storm Nears Earth

Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. shifted 11 U.S.-Asia flights further south today to avoid potential radio disruptions as a solar storm hits Earth.

The changes added 10 to 15 minutes to the affected flights, the airlines said. AMR Corp.’s American Airlines moved three flights to lower altitudes on some routes close to the polar regions, Tim Smith, an airline spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The “coronal mass ejection” from the sun arrived about 5:45 a.m. New York time and wasn’t as strong as expected, according to the National Weather Service. The center said that the effect will continue to change. In January, a similar storm, the most powerful to hit Earth since 2003, also saw flights rerouted.

“We fly a little more southerly to avoid radio disruptions,” said Michael Trevino, a spokesman for Chicago-based United Continental in an interview. “Doing this is not unusual. Sometimes wind patterns affect routing too.”

Delta moved seven flights today to alternate routes, said Anthony Black, an airline spokesman. United Continental shifted four, Trevino said. The affected routes were from the U.S. to cities in Japan, China and Hong Kong.

The radiation storm caused blackouts in high-frequency radio, used by airlines and emergency services, at the planet’s poles and other regions, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in a statement on its website yesterday. Such storms also have the potential to disrupt power grids and satellite communications.

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