The year barely had started when the airline industry predicted 2007 would have more flight delays than the year before — and now nine months into the year, that prediction has become a fact.
Airlines' on-time performance rate for the year is 72.23 percent, a 5.19 percent decrease from this time last year, according to figures recently released by Bureau of Transportation Statistics. The nation's largest carriers recorded an overall on-time arrival rate of 69.8 percent in July, compared to 73.7 percent in July 2006.
So, what's different about this year?
"The problem is that nothing is different,” said Elizabeth Merida, spokeswoman for the Air Transport Association. Merida said an unchanged, outdated air traffic control system is to blame for the increase in flight delays.
"The slightest hiccup has an effect in the entire system,” Merida said.
She said the Next Generation Air Transport System, which the Federal Aviation Administration wants funded, is the answer to the delay problems.
"At the end of the day, we need an overhaul of the entire system,” Merida said. "It isn't going to get any better until we get a new system.”
But with an overhaul possibly years away — NextGen is estimated to cost $15 billion to $22 billion by 2025 — the delays will likely get worse year after year, leaving it up to the airlines to find their own solutions for the delays.
From rewarding employees for good on-time rates to boarding early, airlines are looking for ways to battle delays.
"There are things we can't control, like weather, but I certainly feel there are several steps the airlines can take to improve these numbers,” Southwest Airlines Spokesman Chris Mainz said.
The Texas-based airline has two full-time employees dedicated to finding ways to improve the company's on-time rate, Mainz said. He said adjusting flight times and the early departure program, which allows the airlines to leave when everyone is boarded instead of waiting for the actual take-off time, are ways Southwest tries to get passengers to destinations on time.