Flight delays in US cost $41 billion in 2007

Saturday, May 31, 2008, 20:32 by Aviation Correspondent

The aviation industry as well as passengers in the United States are paying a heavy price for domestic flight delays – with the overall losses coming to a staggering $40.7 billion in 2007 alone.

A report by the Joint Economic Committee of the House and Senate, released on May 22, 2008, concluded that the $40.7-billion loss included the following:

* Delays cost the airlines $19.1 billion in increased operating costs. That represents over $3.8 billion the airline industry earned in profits in 2007, according to the Air Transport Association, which represents large carriers.
* Passengers lost the equivalent of $12 billion as a result of lost time due to flight delays. The actual costs of the congested aviation system may have been even greater because the calculation did not include losses from canceled flights or missed connections.
* Other industries suffered estimated losses of $9.6 billion.
* Delays forced airlines to use an additional 740 million gallons of jet fuel, equal to about 5% of total fuel consumption. That led to the emission of an additional 7.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, adding to the aviation industry’s impact on global warming.
* Overall, delays accounted for almost 20% of all airline flight time in 2007.

The Joint Economic Committee of the House and Senate analysed flight times, fuel burn rates and aircraft type to arrive at the conclusions.

The committee examined over 10 million individual flight records from the Department of Transportation (DOT). It used DOT guidelines in setting a value of $37.60 per passenger per delay hour.

Those delays reached 320 million hours in 2007, which is about 20% of domestic flight time. The worst delays were experienced out of major airports in the Northeast and Midwest.

Estimated minutes of departure delay per passenger were 30 minutes out of New York’s LaGuardia Airport, 27 minutes out of John F Kennedy International Airport in New York, 25 minutes at Philadelphia International Airport, and 21 minutes at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

The committee found that only 6% of delays was caused by weather or security-related issues. The overwhelming causes for flight delays were “systemic congestion problems that will only get worse as air passengers increase from about 700 million a year today to an estimated 1.1 billion in 2025.”

Senator Charles Schumer (Democrat-New York), chairman of Congress’ Joint Economic Committee was quoted as commenting on the situation: “With delays going through the roof and the economy squishy soft, delays’ impact on the economy is very severe.”

He described the impact on passengers and the overall economy as a “$41-billion punch in the gut” and said “the airline industry is drowning in red ink.”

Senator Schumer said the Federal Aviation Administration should move quickly to modernise its air traffic control system and increase the number of air traffic contollers.

The traffic congestion in 2007 had impelled both airlines and the US government to resort to a number of measures to ease jamming: the steps included the Department of Transportation limiting flights into New York’s airports to check delays and the Federal Aviation Administration opening new routes to allow for more flights.

According to the report by the Congressional committee, over a quarter of flights operated by major US airlines and their affiliates were delayed in 2007 with on-time performance suffering most at airports in the New York area. The New York region handles about a third of all domestic air traffic in the United States.

In 2008, flight delays could cost airlines in the United States over $2 billion in wasted jet fuel, the congressional report predicted.

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