Air traffic delays hit record pace
The Boston Globe, Reuters, Feb. 2, 2001
WASHINGTON - US air traffic delays soared to a record last year, with late operations up 20 percent over 1999, the government said yesterday.
A decline in delays was noted from November to December, but that did not offset the record pace, which the Federal Aviation Administration attributed to poor weather conditions and more flights.
In addition to more air traffic delays, the Transportation Department reported more consumer complaints for the year about service.
There were just over 29,000 air traffic operations delayed 15 minutes or more in December, compared with more than 34,000 in November, the FAA said.
For the year, there were 450,289 delays, up more than 20 percent from 1999. About 68 percent of the late flights were attributed to bad weather.
Almost 30 percent of all delays due to increased flight volume were the result of congestion at LaGuardia Airport in New York. LaGuardia, which ranked as the second most congested US airport in 1999, behind New Jersey's Newark International Airport, jumped to number one last year.
Behind LaGuardia and Newark were Chicago's O'Hare and San Francisco.
While delays shot up, so did consumer complaints about service. The Transportation Department said consumers filed 23,381 complaints in 2000, up 14 percent over 1999.
Authorities hope delays at LaGuardia will ease beginning this month, with a reduction in new flights decided by a lottery held in December.
For 2000, the FAA blamed weather delays, which were up 20 percent from 1999, for 69 percent of the total.
Additional pressure came from the increased volume of flights. Volume was responsible for 14 percent of all delays and was up 42 percent from 1999, the FAA said.
''It has been more than a year and the situation is not getting any better,'' said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. He said about 75 percent of the delays affected business travelers, who are ''deeply, deeply frustrated.''
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta predicted last week that delays probably will worsen this year.
Improving the nation's air traffic system and finding ways to boost capacity at airports to meet demand were top priorities, he said.
The industry also expressed frustration with delays, saying the federal government needs to address an overburdened air traffic control system.
''Without intervention, the problem will continue to grow, particularly leading up to the summer travel season,'' said Michael Wascom, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the industry's chief lobbying group.
The group urged the Bush administration on Wednesday to fight delays with $4.8 billion in accelerated spending on a satellite navigation system and hiring of more air traffic controllers.
This story ran on page A03 of the Boston Globe on 2/2/2001.
FAA: Air delays will continue
The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) figures for flight delays in 2000 confirm what air travelers already suspected: delays were at an all-time high, and weather was blamed for a majority of them.
The FAA said there were 450,289 aviation delays reported last year. That's a 20 percent increase over 1999, and a record high.
Bad weather accounted for 309,482 delays, or about 68.7 percent of the total. Air traffic volume was blamed for 14 percent of all holdups.
Air traffic control equipment problems and airport construction projects rounded out the list.
Most of the weather-related schedule disruptions were the result of thunderstorms, the FAA said. There were numerous storms during the spring and summer, and they also occurred frequently during the autumn months.
Nationwide, delays actually declined during December, but it was not enough to offset the problems experienced throughout the year.
Unless the coming year is less stormy, the FAA says travelers shouldn't expect any significant improvements in on-time air travel.
"It will be 5-10 years before there are significant changes that improve our ability to handle bad weather. There will be modest improvements in the next few years," says William Shumann, FAA spokesman.
"There is no silver bullet to beat weather delays."
That doesn't mean the FAA and the airlines aren't trying to improve their punctuality. They are working together and sharing forecast information so any plans to reroute or cancel flights are coordinated across the industry. The Integrated Terminal Weather System is being used to make it safer and more efficient to get in and out of airports during bad weather, says Shumann.
The airline industry, represented by its trade group the American Transport Association, wants to hasten the hiring of more air traffic controllers, but does not disagree with the FAA's planned number of new hires, says Shumann.
Both organizations are in favor of using satellite navigation to improve over-all performance during bad weather and at high-volume airports.
Because flight volume is also a major cause of delays, the FAA points to new runway construction as a critical element in improving the efficiency of the aviation industry. "We've got more flights going to basically the same number of runways. There are technological initiatives that will add incremental capacity to the system, but a new runway can increase an airport's capacity by 40 percent," Shumann says.
Shumann expresses confidence in newly appointed Transportation Secretary
Norman Mineta's commitment to expediting the process of building new runways.