Airline delays cost the nation’s economy as much as $41 billion a year. So what’s the cause? It’s certainly not general aviation, according to a recent report from the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) of Congress.
The statistical analysis of airline flight delays showed that 29 percent were caused by things the airlines could control, such as baggage handling and fueling. Some 40 percent of all delayed fights were because the preceding flights arrived late. “Extreme” weather accounted for less than 6 percent of delays, according to the JEC, while “non-extreme” weather and other air traffic control delays comprised 28 percent of delays.
“But the JEC did not point a finger at GA for contributing to those ATC delays,” said Andy Cebula, AOPA executive vice president of government affairs. “In fact, the committee even suggested that GA is a victim of airline congestion.” While the JEC analysis didn’t compute the cost of delays to the GA community, it did note that “controllers may require general aviation flights to travel circuitous routes to avoid high traffic areas.”
More than half of the total airline passenger delay hours involve flights to and from the 35 busiest airports in the country, according to the report. However, general aviation accounts for only 3.5 percent of the traffic at those airline hub airports.
The JEC report, which was prepared by committee staff to the majority party, also blamed “inaction by the administration” for furthering the delay problem by “failure to fund equipment upgrades, particularly new air traffic control systems, such as NextGen.” While the JEC called for reforming the aviation system, it did not call for changing the FAA funding system.
Meanwhile, a new FAA funding bill remains pending in the Senate. While the Finance and Commerce committees reached a compromise on a bill that would help pay for NextGen by increasing taxes on GA turbine fuel (while keeping airline taxes the same), the full Senate has yet to approve that bill because of disagreement over non-aviation items.
The current aviation taxes expire on June 30. If the Senate doesn’t pass its funding bill by then, Congress will likely grant another temporary extension of the current taxes and funding system.