Joined: 24 Dec 2006
|Posted: Sat Jan 27, 2007 12:14 am Post subject: US Airline delays set record in 2006
|Updated 1/26/2007 10:14 AM ET
By Alan Levin
Airline delays increased sharply last year to record highs because of a rash of bad weather starting in the fall that shut airports and stranded thousands of passengers, according to federal data obtained by USA TODAY.
By several measures, airline delays exceeded those in 1999 and 2000, when thunderstorms created such chaos in schedules that passengers revolted and Congress threatened to take action against carriers.
The rise in delays demonstrates that the system is becoming more vulnerable to airport snarls as flights increase in crowded cities such as New York, Chicago and Atlanta. The data also show the system has improved in some ways. Last summer, for example, delays never reached the peaks of 2000. Summer typically has the most delays because of thunderstorms.
Aircraft were delayed 22.1 million minutes last year, Federal Aviation Administration records show. That translates to delays of at least 15 minutes for 22% of flights on large airlines through November, according to the most recent data from the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
New York's three airports led the nation in the percentage of late flights through November, according to the federal data. At Newark, one-third of arrivals on major airlines were at least 15 minutes late.
The increase occurred despite signs that airlines and the FAA have improved how they deal with delays, an analysis of delay statistics and interviews with federal and aviation officials show. The agency has tried to reduce congestion caused by bad weather at large hubs by delaying more flights at small airports. This allows the FAA to clear backups at large airports more quickly. The FAA also set up hotlines to better coordinate rerouting delayed flights.
"We manage the delays much better," says Russ Chew, the FAA's air-traffic chief. Complaints to the federal government about airline delays fell from 9,235 in 2000 to 1,972 through last October.
The tough year in the skies was capped by snowstorms that closed Denver's airport for two days before Christmas. Several hundred people spent up to eight hours on the tarmac in Austin after American Airlines jets were diverted there Dec. 29.
"The air-traffic control system is under stress because of the demand and unusual weather. The airline system is under stress because of the high load factors and the economic pressures," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics professor John Hansman. "And now the passengers are under stress."
Air Transport Association President Jim May said the rise in delays highlights the need for new technologies. "It inevitably is going to get worse because of the demands on a system that is at capacity," May said.