HTML _ RS20734 - Aviation Delays
22-Nov-2000; Glen Moore; 3 p.

Abstract: Flight delays and cancellation in the U.S. air transportation system rose to record levels in 2000. The problem costs the airlines an estimated $3 billion annually and causes great inconvenience for shippers and passengers. Billions of federal dollars are being spent to modernize the air traffic control (ATC) system, purchase new equipment and expand airport capacity. But the airlines express little confidence that these efforts will provide near-term relief or be enough in the long-term to accommodate the forecasted growth in air traffic ­ up from about 670 million passengers this year to 1.0 billion forecast by 2010 and 1.5 billion by 2025.

The ability of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to operate the ATC system, while simultaneously completing the modernization effort and overseeing airline safety, has been in question for some time. The rise in delays adds voice to calls for ATC reform and/or regulatory remedies. Since the mid 1980s, the airlines have pushed to have the ATC operate like a corporation, largely independent of the FAA. Others want a fully privatized the ATC system. Some have called for a return to government regulation of airline schedules, or at a minimum, to waive antitrust laws and allow the carriers to coordinate their own schedules. Still others want airports to take the lead and establish priority-pricing fees to constrain landings and takeoffs during peak periods at the busiest airports where the delay problem is the greatest.

It is generally agreed that the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better, and that correcting it is an evolutionary process that will take years to accomplish. The answer may lie in a mix of solutions ­ technology, more runways, airline scheduling, and airspace redesign among them. To effectively administer federal resources, policy makers need better information about the problem, including the numbers and causes of delays, the maximum traffic loads the ATC and airport systems can handle, and when and how much relief to expect from modernization efforts.Measuring Delay. At this time there is no uniform method of counting delays, reporting delays, or even defining delay. Inconsistencies and limitations in currently available delay statistics frustrate efforts to get a total count of delays from pre-gate departure to arrival. Nevertheless, by almost any measure, delays and cancellations in 2000 were up compared to 1999 making it one of the worst years on record for delay.

Uncertainty over the amount of delay in the system arises in part from two agencies in the Department of Transportation (DOT) collecting delay statistics by different means, for different purposes, using different definitions. The FAA tallies only ATC system delays for use in monitoring the performance of that system It takes no account of airline schedules or cancellations. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the other DOT agency, collects delay statistics based on published airline schedules for use in ranking air carriers by on-time performance The two methods produce different results that bear little relationship to each other and together do not provide a complete picture of system delay. [read report]

Topics: Transportation

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