Friday, December 5, 2003

Reports to explain air delays

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

For the first time since it began tracking monthly airline delays 16 years ago, the Transportation Department Thursday gave reasons for those delays, something industry and federal officials say will benefit passengers.

"There isn't any huge revelation here, but it sure adds detail to things that people already had a sense of and understood," said Mike Reynolds, the Transportation Department's acting assistant secretary for aviation and international affairs. "It will provide us a new tool for further trend analysis for air delays throughout the system."

The new data, included in the department's monthly air delay report, breaks delays into five broad categories:

• Extreme weather: Planes cannot take off because of storms and the like.

• National aviation system: From airport congestion to minor weather delays.

• Air carrier: It was the airline's fault for maintenance or crew problems, for instance.

• Previous flight delayed: A plane that was late coming into the airport.

• Security: A flight is emptied, a terminal is evacuated, scanning equipment isn't working, or long lines mean waits at checkpoints longer than 29 minutes.

The new data is being included after Congress put in a requirement for the report in a funding law in April 2000, just before the "summer of airline hell" that included the worst delay rates on record.

But the data is still delayed a month - Thursday's report covers October. And while reasons are given by airport for the largest 32 airports nationally, and for the top 17 airlines, it isn't possible for a passenger to look up the reason why a particular flight was delayed.

Still, federal officials say the additional data will help them keep an eye on airlines and their scheduling practices.

"This will help us know where the chokepoints are and why, and you need to know why before you can sell the public on the billions it will take to upgrade the infrastructure," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, a Washington-based passenger advocacy group.

In October, 86.4 percent of the 550,000 or so flights among those 17 airlines were on time, or arrived within 15 minutes of schedule. Of the remaining flights, 5.43 percent were delayed by national aviation system (more than half of them were affected by weather) and 0.30 percent was delayed by extreme weather. Air carrier problems accounted for 3.49 percent, while delayed flights caused by late arriving aircraft was 3.29 percent. Security accounted for 0.05 percent, and cancelled and diverted flights were 1.04 percent.

Federal officials said the data clearly shows that weather remains the biggest factor in delays, even though October is considered the best weather month for airlines. During a five-month pilot project with four airlines, including local market leader Delta Air Lines, weather accounted for an average of 79 percent of all delays.

October also saw a large percentage of delays classified as "other" because of California wildfires.

Delta, which operates its second-largest hub locally, tied for 10th among those 17 carriers with an 85.4 percent on time arrival rate in October. According to the report, 8.5 percent of its flights were delayed by the national aviation system; 3.1 percent were Delta's fault; 2.3 percent were delayed by late-arriving aircraft; 0.12 percent were delayed by extreme weather; and 0.01 percent were delayed by security.

Delta spokesman John Kennedy said the data need to be interpreted carefully.

"We're always going to operate with safety and security in mind first," Kennedy said.

Delta's Erlanger-based regional subsidiary Comair wasn't in the report, but says it had an on-time rate of 87.3 percent for October.

Why they're late

Here are the on-time and delay rates and the reasons for delays for both Delta Air Lines nationwide and for arrivals at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport:

Delta Air Lines
On-time 85.40
National Aviation System 8.50
Air carrier 3.19
Late arriving aircraft2.30
Extreme weather 0.12
Canceled and diverted 0.48

Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (arrivals only)
National Aviation System5.27
Air carrier 3.18
Late arriving aircraft 2.22
Extreme weather 0.19
Canceled and diverted 1.23
Source: Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics


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