The Heat Is Online

FAA: Weather Delayed, Canceled Nearly 34,000 Flights in July

The Boston Globe, Associated Press, Aug. 11,2000

WASHINGTON - Admitting that the traveling public is suffering through a ''difficult summer,'' the head of the Federal Aviation Administration says flight delays declined in July despite an increase in severe weather, the most common cause of delayed trips.

''If you're a passenger and you're stuck, as I was yesterday, it's very frustrating,'' FAA Administrator Jane Garvey said yesterday.

The improvement followed a June in which the number of flights arriving late was thousands higher than in the previous year.

There were 153 occasions in July of thunderstorms affecting major airports, up from 99 instances in July 1999, he said.

The result was 33,907 weather-relayed delays in July, up from 33,664 in the same month a year earlier.

The overall performance gain is clouded by problems at United Airlines, the nation's largest carrier, where the combination of a dispute with pilots and bad weather has led to delays or cancellations of scores of flights.

The public has ''suffered through a difficult summer and we know it. We wish there were a silver bullet; there is not,'' said Garvey, who said she was delayed nearly an hour Wednesday on an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Washington. But she praised the pilot of the flight for keeping the passengers informed.

Flight delays nationwide totaled 44,401 in July, down more than 11 percent from June and a 1.7 percent decrease from July of last year, said Peter Challan, deputy associate administrator.

Challan cited cooperation between the FAA and the airlines for the improvement, noting that they are working together to share weather data, reroute planes and make earlier decisions on cancellations to improve planning downstream.

But, he admitted, ''if you're a passenger who is delayed, these numbers don't mean anything to you.''

Challan was reluctant to discuss the impact of United's problems on overall delays, saying only that ''United, clearly, at this time, has additional issues that they're dealing with.''

With the current strong economy, the air transport system is nearing capacity, and many delays or cancellations by such a large airline could put a strain on the other carriers as passengers seek alternate flights during the busy August travel season.

The FAA report covers delays involving the air traffic control system. It does not break them down by airline and does not include delays caused by mechanical or other problems at individual airlines. Those would be included in the Transportation Department's separate reports on airlines' on-time performance.

Challan noted that the overall lessening in delays took place despite increased air traffic and much worse weather this July than the same month last year.

Airlines reported 14,873,580 flights in July, up from 14,726,317 in the same month a year earlier.

There were 153 occasions in July of thunderstorms affecting major airports, up from 99 instances in July 1999, he said. The result was 33,907 weather-relayed delays in July, up from 33,664 in the same month a year earlier.

With growing air traffic, delays caused by volume were also up, from 2,606 to 4,781.

But there were fewer delays caused by FAA equipment malfunctions, runway problems and other causes such as bomb threats and aircraft emergencies.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 8/11/2000.