U.S. Air Carrier On-Time Performance

U.S. Air Carrier On-Time Performance

Just over 82 percent of domestic air flights arrived on time in 2002, compared with 75 percent in 1996. Late flights totaled 16 percent in 2002, down from 23 percent in 1996 (figure 15). Over this period, late, cancelled, or diverted flights peaked at 1.6 million in 2000, declining to just below 942,000 in 2002.

The total number of flight operations at the nation’s airports decreased by 5 percent, to 64.9 million, between 2000 and 2002 after having increased by 8 percent, from 63.0 million to 67.7 million, between 1992 and 2000 [2]. The decrease in flight operations due to the air system shutdown on September 11, 2001, and the aftermath, along with the consequences of a weak economy, affected overall airline performance. However, a trend to improved on-time performance began in early 2001 when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and major airlines began implementing the National Airspace System Operational Evolution Plan [1].

Air carriers with at least 1 percent of total domestic scheduled service passenger revenues are required to report these on-time performance data to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).1 A flight has an “on-time departure” if the aircraft leaves the airport gate less than 15 minutes after its scheduled departure time, regardless of the time the aircraft actually lifts off from the runway. An arriving flight is counted as on-time if it arrives less than 15 minutes after its scheduled gate arrival time. Most delays take place while a plane is on the ground, although the actual cause of a delay may occur elsewhere in the system. Weather, usually the most common cause of delays, was responsible for 72 percent of FAA-recorded delays in 2002 [2]. BTS began collecting causes of delays and cancellations in June 2003 (see chapter 3).


1. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, NAS Operational Evolution Plan, available at http://www2.faa.gov/programs/oep/index.htm, as of May 2003.

2. _____, OPSNET database, as of May 2003 (not publicly available).

1 Alaska Airlines, America West Airlines, American Airlines, American Eagle Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways were required to report in 2002. Beginning in January 2003, reports were also required from Atlantic Southeast Airlines, AirTran Airways, ATA (formerly doing business as American Trans Air), Atlantic Coast Airlines, ExpressJet Airlines, and SkyWest Airlines. In addition, JetBlue Airways started voluntarily filing on-time performance data in 2003.