FAA piqued at O'Hare congestion

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WASHINGTON -- American and United airlines will both reduce the number of flights they schedule out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport during peak hours from March 4 to Sept. 1 in response to action taken by the Federal Aviation Association to improve congested conditions at the airport.

The FAA, after negotiating separately with the carriers, issued an order that requires them to reduce their number of peak flights for by 5% each. That translates into 62 fewer flights on O'Hare's runways from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. during that span.

The order, the first of its kind to reduce airport congestion, came as O'Hare recently experienced record-breaking delays.

"On Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, nearly 39% of O'Hare's arrivals were delayed with an average delay of 492 [flights] per day at an average of one hour per aircraft," said FAA administrator Marion Blakey during a press conference at DOT headquarters Jan. 21.

The delays were the "most the FAA has ever recorded," she said. And the delays at O'Hare rippled through the system, causing "more than a 10% increase in the average flight delay at the nation's largest 35 airports," added DOT secretary Norman Mineta.

The FAA said it would take further steps if congested conditions persist at O'Hare.

American already "depeaked" its hubs at O'Hare [the FAA order means American will eliminate an additional 27 flights per day during those seven high-traffic hours] and Dallas/Fort Worth, spreading flights more evenly throughout the day so employees aren't sitting idle between flight clusters.

Now that concept, which adds productivity at the tradeoff of slightly longer connecting times, will be implemented at American's hub in Miami.

American said Wednesday it will increase the number of daily flight "banks," or clusters, from seven to 13, effective May 1. That also should allow for more flights in and out of Miami using fewer aircraft, another contributor to lower costs, the airline said.

In Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth, depeaking has resulted in a 5% to 8% improvement in the number of flight departures per employee, American president and CEO Gerard Arpey said.

To contact reporters Michael Milligan and Andrew Compart, send e-mail to [email protected] or [email protected].

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