US airline delays in 2007 were second worst ever

The industry's poor performance reflects rising passenger demand coupled with congestion in the skies.

arrivals board 88 224 (photo credit: )
arrivals board 88 224
(photo credit: )
US airline delays in 2007 were the second worst on record, the Transportation Department said Tuesday. Flights in the US were late more than 26 percent of the time last year, a slightly better performance than in 2000, when airlines were tardy 27.4% of the time. The federal government began collecting airlines' on-time data in 1995. The industry's poor performance reflects rising passenger demand coupled with congestion in the skies and on tarmacs as the Federal Aviation Administration grapples with a growing number of air traffic controllers nearing retirement age. In 2006, domestic flights were late about 24.5% of the time. President George W. Bush has demanded action to avoid another summer of record delays, but there is little consensus among airlines, airport operators, Congress and the administration on what should be done. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters earlier this month said congested airports could charge landing fees based on the time flights land and traffic volume to encourage carriers to spread operations more evenly throughout the day. But the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty, said the new policy was a minor fix for a major problem. In 2007, those three airports had the lowest on-time arrival rates, and aviation officials say delays there cascade throughout the system and cause three-quarters of all flight delays. The Air Transport Association, which represents the nation's largest airlines, also said a more comprehensive fix was needed. The trade group and the Port Authority prefer flight-path changes and improvements aimed at increasing the flight capacity at airports. The airlines and the FAA are pressing for a new, $15 billion satellite-based air traffic control system, dubbed NextGen, that will take nearly 20 years to complete to improve operations. Last August, the FAA awarded ITT Corp. a contract worth up to $1.8b. to build the first portion the system. Peters on Monday said the Bush administration's $68b. fiscal 2009 budget proposal for the department would more than double the investment in NextGen technology to $688 million. But airport operators criticized the proposal for cutting the FAA's airport improvement program to $2.75b. in funding, which is $765m. less than this year and more than $1.1b. below the level in the FAA reauthorization bill pending in Congress. The 20 US largest carriers reported an on-time arrival rate of 64.3% in December, down from 70.8% in the same month in 2006 and from 80% in November. December 2007 was the third worst month on record, but December 2000 was even worse with on-time performance of about 62.8%, which helped save last year from being the worst overall for delays. In December, 43.6% of late flights were delayed by weather, up 12.6% from December 2006 and from 37.8% in November. Customer complaints rose nearly 40% to 849 in December compared with the year-ago period, according to the government data. The rate of mishandled baggage rose slightly to nine reports per 1,000 passengers from more than 8.9 reports a year ago.