News Article - August 07, 2007

Flight times slip at PHL, BWI  
  More crowded skies and an overtaxed air-traffic control system helped make June a tough month for air travelers, including those using Philadelphia and Baltimore airports, whose on-time performances slipped, compared with a year ago. The Department of Transportation said Monday that the nation's carriers posted an on-time performance of 68.1 percent for the month -- the second-worst month since the depart- ment began reporting data in its current format in 1995. The figure was down from 72.8 percent in June 2006.

   Philadelphia International Airport, which ranked 28th among 32 big airports in on-time performance, saw the percentage of flights arriving within 15 minutes of their scheduled time decline to just 58.6 percent, compared with 64.3 percent in June 2006. Only Dallas-Fort Worth, Newark, N.J., and the two major airports in New York City had worse arrival times than Philadelphia. Salt Lake City had the highest on-time arrival performance in June at 78.8 percent.

Effects trickle down

  Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport ranked 16th on the list with 68.9 percent of flights arriving on time, down from 70.1 percent in June 2006. Flights into and out of Philadelphia International, in the middle of the busy Northeast air corridor, can be impacted by weather delays at other airports, said Phyllis VanIstendal, the airport's government affairs manager. "If Chicago is having terrible weather, that would impact us, especially with more and more flights out there," she said.

   A runway-extension project under way at one of the airport's four runways should help ease congestion. Philadelphia International is adding 1,040 feet to a 5,000-foot-long runway. That will enable it to accommodate more commercial flights once the extension is finished in late 2008, VanIstendal said. Nationwide, June's poor on-time performance is the result of a confluence of factors, airline industry experts said.

   Airlines are putting more planes in the skies and carriers are cutting down the number of jumbo jets in favor of smaller regional jets. While the smaller planes are easier to fill, the airlines need to put more of them in the air if they want to move the same number of passengers, said Vahid Motevelli, director of George Washington University's Aviation Institute.

   The airlines' cost-saving efforts also contributed to the delays, as carriers cut back on personnel and equipment, Mote- velli said. "Wherever they could restructure and save money, they have," he said.

Blames FAA

Michael Boyd, an airline industry consultant in Evergreen, Colo., said the Federal Aviation Administration, not the airlines, should shoulder blame for the worsening number of delays. FAA computer problems led to massive delays in June, and computer problems in Cincinnati led to about 100 flights being delayed last month, Boyd said. "Their equipment is outmoded, they're understaffed and they're under-managed," Boyd said.

   Among the largest carriers, American Airlines had the worst on-time performance in June with 57.9 percent of flights arriving or departing on time. Southwest Airlines had the best performance at 75.3 percent. The airlines also reported that they mishandled more bags in June -- 7.9 bags per 1,000 passengers, compared with 6.3 per 1,000 passengers in June 2006.

Source - Deleware Online