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Airline On-Time Performance Improves in 2010

February 11, 2011 By: George Dooley

The on-time performance of the nation’s largest airlines improved in 2010 compared to the previous year, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) data showed that the 18 largest carriers reporting on-time performance recorded an overall on-time arrival rate of 79.8 percent for January through December 2010, an improvement on 2009’s 79.5 percent on-time arrival rate. During December 2010, these carriers posted an on-time performance rate of 72 percent, equal to the 72 percent on-time rate recorded in December 2009, but down from November 2010’s 83.2 percent rate.

In December, airlines reported three domestic flights with tarmac delays of more than three hours, down from 34 in December 2009. Data filed with BTS showed there have been only 15 total tarmac delays of more than three hours reported from May through December 2010 by the 18 airlines that file on-time performance data with DOT, compared to 584 during the same eight-month period of 2009. In December, the carriers also reported that .0600 percent of their scheduled flights had tarmac delays of two hours or more, up from .0200 percent in November.

December was the eighth full month of data since the new aviation consumer rule went into effect on April 29, 2010, according to DOT. The new rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac at a large or medium hub airport for more than three hours without deplaning passengers, with exceptions allowed only for safety or security or if air traffic control advises the pilot in command that returning to the terminal would disrupt airport operations. The DOT said it will investigate tarmac delays that exceed this limit.

The DOT has also issued a rulemaking that would significantly strengthen the protection afforded to passengers stranded on the ground aboard aircraft for lengthy periods. In a June 2010 notice of proposed rulemaking, the department proposed to increase the number of carriers that are required to adopt tarmac delay contingency plans to include foreign air carriers and proposed to increase the number of airports at which carriers must adhere to such plans to include U.S. small and non-hub airports.

In addition, the department proposed to require all carriers that must adopt tarmac delay contingency plans to file data with the Department regarding lengthy tarmac delays. The Department expects to issue a final rule as early as April 2011, which will consider all the comments received as well as the lengthy tarmac delays experienced by a number of foreign carriers at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) during and after the Dec. 26, 2010, blizzard and the resulting impact on passengers traveling on those flights.

During December, when large parts of the country experienced severe winter weather, the carriers canceled 3.7 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, compared to 2.8 percent in December 2009 and 0.7 percent in November 2010. The number of canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours increased only slightly, from 251 between May and December 2009 to 266 between May and December 2010. There were 25 canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours in December 2010, down from 27 in December 2009.

In December, the carriers reported that 7.07 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 5.38 percent in November; 9.18 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 5.64 percent in November; 6.97 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 4.58 percent in November; 0.76 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.31 percent in November; and 0.08 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.03 percent in November.

Weather was a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category, the DOT said. This included delays due to the re-routing of flights by DOT’s Federal Aviation Administration in consultation with the carriers involved. Weather was also a factor in delays attributed to late-arriving aircraft, although airlines do not report specific causes in that category.

Data collected by BTS also show the percentage of late flights delayed by weather, including those reported in either the category of extreme weather or included in National Aviation System delays. In December, 36.67 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, down 19.05 percent from December 2009, when 45.3 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and up 15.61 percent from November when 31.72 percent of late flights were delayed by weather.


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By George Dooley | February 11, 2011
Despite a year rife with bad weather, airlines improved their performances.
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