Government will require airlines to offer “complete picture” of ground delays

By | June 4th, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of posts about the Transportation Department’s sweeping new airline passenger protection rules. Here’s the first one. Please take a moment to comment on these proposed rules at The future of air travel depends on it.

Attention, airlines: The government wants to know more about your tarmac delays.

Actually, it wants to know everything.

This week’s massive Transportation Department rulemaking contains a provision that would require airlines that must adopt tarmac-delay contingency plans to also file delay data with the department. If it’s passed, the result could be an insight into tarmac delays unlike any we’ve ever had.

In yesterday’s post on the new contingency plan requirements, I mentioned that tarmac delays were rare. The regulatory analysis (PDF) sheds further light on those numbers.

As you can see, it’s a very small fraction of the flights that are experiencing these big delays. But what do we not know about the tarmac delays that we need to know?

We have narrowed the data fields we propose to be reported to those we believe are necessary for us to extract necessary tarmac delay information. In addition, we propose to require these tarmac delay data to be reported each month only with respect to tarmac delays of 3 hours or more.


(1) Carrier code
(2) Flight number
(3) Departure airport (three letter vode)
(4) Arrival airport (three letter code)
(5) Date of flight operation (year/month/day)
(6) Gate departure time (actual) in local time
(7) Gate arrival time (actual) in local time
(8) Wheels-off time (actual) in local time
(9) Wheels-on time (actual) in local time
(10) Aircraft tail number
(11) Total ground time away from gate for all gate return/fly return at origin airports including cancelled flights
(12) Longest time away from gate for gate return or canceled flight
(13) Three letter code of airport where diverted flight
(14) Wheels-on time at diverted airport
(15) Total time away from gate at diverted airport
(16) Longest time away from gate at diverted airport
(17) Wheels-off time at diverted airport

DOT believes more data is the key to solving the tarmac delay problem.

While a single incident of tarmac delay may be attributed to one or more causes, such as air traffic congestion, weather related delays, mechanical problems, and/or flight dispatching logistic failures, we believe that an initial and essential step toward finding solutions for the tarmac delay problem, whether by government regulations and/or through voluntary actions by the airlines, and monitoring the effect on consumers of lengthy tarmac delays, is to obtain more complete data on these incidents.

The Econometica analysis agrees that having this data would be helpful.

[T]he Department does not collect information on the number and characteristics of tarmac delays associated with domestic flights operated by non-reporting U.S. carriers and with international flights operated by either U.S. or foreign carriers. Information about these delays would improve the Department‘s ability to understand the extent and causes of lengthy tarmac delays and provide the basis for assessing whether carriers are complying with current and proposed requirements for tarmac contingency plans.

Other than the expense of reporting the data, which DOT has already factored into this rulemaking, can you think of any reason why airlines would not want to report tarmac delay data?

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