Airlines are Avoiding Long Tarmac Delays

The nation’s largest airlines reported no flights in February with tarmac delays of more than three hours, down from a total number of 60 delayed flights in February 2010, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Data filed with the DOT showed there have been only 16 total tarmac delays of more than three hours reported from May 2010 through February 2011 by the airlines that file on-time performance data with the DOT, compared to 664 three or more-hour tarmac delays reported from May 2009 through February 2010. In February, carriers also reported that .04 percent of their scheduled flights had tarmac delays of two hours or more, down from the .06 percent reported in January 2011.

February was the 10th full month of data since the new aviation consumer rule went into effect on April 29, 2010, the DOT noted. The new rule prohibits U.S. airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours without deplaning passengers. The exceptions allow 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 will investigate tarmac delays that exceed the limit.
Sixteen carriers reporting on-time performance recorded an overall on-time arrival rate of 74.5 percent in February, which was down from both the 74.7 percent on-time rate of February 2010, and January 2011’s 76.3 percent rate.

In February, while large parts of the country experienced severe winter weather, the carriers canceled 4.9 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, compared to 5.4 percent in February 2010 and 3.9 percent in January 2011. The number of canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours increased only slightly, from 289 between May 2009 and February 2010 to 331 between May 2010 and February 2011. There were 19 canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours in February 2011, down from 21 in February 2010.

At the end of February, there was only one flight that was chronically delayed—more than 30 minutes late more than 50 percent of the time—for three consecutive months. There were an additional three flights that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months. There were no chronically delayed flights for four consecutive months or more.

In February, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 6.73 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 6.12 percent in January; 7.44 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 7.20 percent in January; 5.44 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 5.65 percent in January; 0.69 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.60 percent in January; and 0.05 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.07 percent in January.

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

Data collected by the DOT also shows 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 February, 36.38 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, down 13.89 percent from February 2010, when 42.25 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and up 10.04 percent from January when 33.06 percent of late flights were delayed by weather.