Keeping Time

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The airlines shouldn’t be so glum these days. They're booking more passengers, flying more planes and nudging up prices—just in time for the spring break and the popular summer travel season. But planes aren't the only things rising at the airport. So are delays.

According to the Department of Transportation, the national on-time arrival rate in January was 71%. That’s worse than the 72% rate during the delay-plagued summer of 2000. If trends continue, fliers at fifteen of the nation's biggest airports can expect to be delayed on at least one out of four flights this summer, a calculation from Airports Council International, a Washington, D.C. group that represents large airports.

“Congestion is back,” says Steve Van Beek of ACI. One new management challenge is the increasing popular commuter jets. “The regional jets are littering the skies,” says one airport manager.

So while politicians in Washington fail to make significant strides in curbing congestion, one airport is taking matters into its own hands. Next week, Logan Airport in Boston will begin monitoring airline delays during its rush hours (mostly 4—7 pm) to see if airlines are over scheduling flights. Logan will keep close tabs on the timeliness of the airlines for the next six months, and then may start slapping airlines with a surcharge of up to $300 a flight for those found to be clogging the system “We don't have a delay problem now,” says Logan director Tom Kinton, “but we know some action may need to be taken to maintain an airport system that is efficient and serves our customers.”

Of course, Airlines are unhappy with Logan's proposed program and fear that it will be replicated at other large airports. “This is the wrong way to go,” says David Berg, general counsel of the Air Transport Association, the airlines’ Washington lobbying group. “The real solution is more runways.” But that's not a quick solution, as new runways can take as long as a decade to build, given strict environmental and building regulations. Meanwhile, Boston's airport intends to run on time.