NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Air Traffic Delays Cost Money

April 10, 2001

The nation's inefficient air traffic control systems are largely to blame for flight delays, analysts report. Those delays are costly to individual travelers and the overall economy.

Although measuring the costs is not a simple task, some organizations have come up with estimates:

  • The Air Transport Association has put the cost for airlines and their passengers at $6 billion a year -- including ground delays, airport taxi times and in-flight delays.
  • Air traffic control delays cost passengers $1.6 billion a year, and $2.9 billion for airlines, according to National Business Travel Association estimates.
  • United Airlines says delays due to all causes cost it $41 per idled plane per minute -- and $7,000 per canceled flight.
  • Southwest Airlines puts the cost of air-traffic control tie-ups, bad weather and other factors outside its control at $50 million to $100 million a year.

One in every four flights was delayed, canceled or diverted last year, according to the Transportation Department. Departure and arrival delays increased 33 percent between 1995 and 2000.

There are a multitude of indirect costs also. For example, many business travelers anxious not to miss an important meeting schedule their travel a day earlier, necessitating an extra night's stay at a hotel and meals on the road. Or limo drivers who have arranged to pick up passengers at airports must cool their heels when flights are late or canceled.

Experts say many of these costs could be eliminated if the air traffic control system were privatized and modernized.

Source: Chris Woodyard, "Constant Travel Delays Cost Money -- Lots of It," USA Today, April 10, 2001.

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