Audit Reports

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New York Flight Delays Have Three Main Causes, but More Work Is Needed To Understand Their Nationwide Effect

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On October 28, 2010, we issued our report on the causes and nationwide effects of flight delays at the principal New York area airports--Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark.  During the summer of 2007, these airports led the Nation with over 40 percent of arriving flights either delayed or cancelled. We conducted this review at the request of the Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, who requested that we (1) determine the principal causes of flights delays in the New York region and (2) identify the corresponding effect of these delays nationwide.

Flight delays in the New York area have three main causes: (1) crowded airspace due to the close proximity and high volume of flight operations of the three main New York airports; (2) airport capacity constraints; and (3) continued growth in air traffic during the last 10 years, in part due to the phase-out of flight limits (caps) from 2000 to 2007.  FAA reestablished the caps in 2008 at Kennedy and imposed them for the first time at Newark, but these have done little to reduce New York area delays.  While there is substantial agreement that New York delays have a nationwide "ripple effect," the extent and nature of their impact are largely unknown.  FAA's efforts to measure this effect are in the developmental stage and require additional work to provide a full understanding of delay propagation.

We made four recommendations to FAA aimed at reexamining its flight caps, enhancing existing flight data, and developing a viable methodology for understanding delay propagation effects.  FAA fully concurred with one recommendation and partially concurred with three.  We are requesting that FAA provide our office with a new written response addressing specific issues with these three recommendations within 30 days.