DOT Reports Tarmac Delays Down

The nation’s largest airlines reported only one flight in January with a tarmac delay of more than three hours, down from 20 flights in January 2010, according to the Air Travel Consumer Report released today 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 January 2011 by the airlines that file on-time performance data with DOT, compared to 604 reported from May 2009 through January 2010. In January, the carriers also reported that .0600 percent of their scheduled flights had tarmac delays of two hours or more, equal to the .0600 percent reported in December 2010.

January was the ninth full month of data since the new aviation consumer rule went into effect on April 29, 2010, the DOT reports. 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, 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 will investigate tarmac delays that exceed this limit.

A total of 16 carriers reporting on-time performance recorded an overall on-time arrival rate of 76.3 percent in January, down from the 78.7 percent on-time rate of January 2010, but up from December 2010’s 72.0 percent rate.

During January, when large parts of the country experienced severe winter weather, the carriers canceled 3.9 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, compared to 2.5 percent in January 2010 and 3.7 percent in December 2010. The number of canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours increased only slightly, from 268 between May 2009 and January 2010 to 312 between May 2010 and January 2011. There were 46 canceled flights with tarmac delays of more than two hours in January 2011, up from 17 in January 2010.

At the end of January, 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 15 flights that were chronically delayed for two consecutive months. There were no chronically delayed flights for four consecutive months or more.

In January, the carriers filing on-time performance data reported that 6.12 percent of their flights were delayed by aviation system delays, compared to 7.07 percent in December; 7.20 percent by late-arriving aircraft, compared to 9.18 percent in December; 5.65 percent by factors within the airline’s control, such as maintenance or crew problems, compared to 6.97 percent in December; 0.60 percent by extreme weather, compared to 0.76 percent in December; and 0.07 percent for security reasons, compared to 0.08 percent in December.

Weather is a factor in both the extreme-weather category and the aviation-system category, DOT says. This includes delays due to the re-routing of flights by 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.

Data collected by 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 January, 33.06 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, down 15.90 percent from January 2010, when 39.31 percent of late flights were delayed by weather, and down 9.84 percent from December when 36.67 percent of late flights were delayed by weather.

The U.S. carriers reporting flight delays and mishandled baggage data posted a mishandled baggage rate of 4.20 reports per 1,000 passengers in January, down from both January 2010’s rate of 4.56 and December 2010’s rate of 4.80.

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