A Brookings Institution study being released today examines air traffic performance in the biggest US metropolitan areas. Lengthy airline delays are twice as common now as in 1990 and will get worse as the economy recovers, it says.
The researchers said much of the problem is due to heavy concentrations of short trips between big cities, but they also cited an "ill-equipped" air traffic control system and other factors.
They suggested increasing high-speed rail service to offer travelers alternatives to short flights. They also recommended letting busy airports charge fees on rush-hour flights to make airlines spread trips more evenly through the day.
According to Brookings, 10.1 % of all flights now arrive at least two hours late, up from 4.3 % in 1990. The average delay is nearly an hour, 41 minutes longer than in 1990.
The Brookings researchers found most delays concentrated in 26 cities — especially New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami, Atlanta and San Francisco. Large cities with the best on-time performance were Salt Lake City, Honolulu and San Jose, Calif.
Among the ideas put forward by the Brookings researchers: use technology that would allow planes to fly closer together, consider privatizing airports, and let airports charge airlines more for takeoff and landing slots during peak hours.
Charging airlines more for peak-hour flights "will do nothing to reduce congestion. It will simply add another tax on passengers," said David Castelveter, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, a trade group for the biggest U.S. airlines.
The trade group says congestion can be reduced by modernizing the nation's air traffic control system.
The Associated Press contributed to the report.