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Flight delays have beset the U.S. national airspace system. In 2007, more than one-quarter of all flights either arrived late or were canceled across the system, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT and its operating agency, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), are making substantial investments in transforming to a new air traffic control system--the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen)--a system that is expected to reduce delays over the next decade. This requested report explains the extent to which (1) flight delays in the U.S. national airspace system have changed since 2007 and the contributing factors to these changes, and (2) actions by DOT and FAA are expected to reduce delays in the next 2 to 3 years. We analyzed DOT and FAA data for FAA's Operational Evolution Partnership (OEP) airports because they are in major metropolitan areas, serving over 70 percent of passengers in the system. We reviewed agency documents and interviewed DOT, FAA, airport, and airline officials and aviation industry experts.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Transportation 1. The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of the Federal FAA to develop and make public airport-specific on-time performance targets, particularly for the most congested airports that impose delays throughout the air traffic control system, to better prioritize FAA's actions to reduce delays and demonstrate benefits of those actions.
Closed - Implemented
In 2010, we reported that flight delays and cancellations had ebbed from record levels in 2007 when one-quarter of all flights were delayed or cancelled. However, close to one-fifth of all flights experienced cancellation or delay and 80 percent of departure delays were attributable to just 7 airports. The extent to which FAA investments and activities are targeted at these airports or will reduce overall delays is unclear. At the time of our report, FAA had not established airport specific performance targets for individual airports. We recommended that FAA develop and make public airport specific on-time performance targets, especially at the nation's most congested airports, so as to better prioritize FAA actions. In 2014, FAA published airport capacity and efficiency benchmark metrics for the 30 core US airports. While these metrics do not provide performance targets they do represent useful indicators for measuring progress in reducing delays and increasing capacity. FAA uses these metrics to identify where additional improvements to increase efficiency and capacity can be made.

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