Congressman John Garamendi

Representing the 3rd District of California
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New Study: Flight Delays Cost $32.9 Billion, and Passengers Foot Half the Bill

October 18, 2010
Press Release

Congressman Garamendi Calls for Cost Saving Investment
in Next Generation Systems

LIVERMORE, CA – Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek, CA), the only member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from Northern California, today welcomed a study on the cost of domestic flight delays by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. Commissioned by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the report calculated the total cost of airline delay at $32.9 billion per year, of which $16.7 billion is borne by passengers (see chart of costs at bottom). Garamendi is an alumnus of UC Berkeley and a former University of California Regent.

"Airline travel already means time and money. Thanks to this important UC Berkeley study, we now know airline delays drain our economy of an additional $32.9 billion per year," said Congressman John Garamendi, a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation. "It is imperative that we immediately pass and fund the next generation of air traffic control systems (NextGen). The total 'once and done' cost for the FAA to invest in NextGen systems is more than a third less than the annual cost of delay. I applaud UC Berkeley, the FAA, and their research partners for working together to produce this essential non-biased report, shedding light on a significant policy issue that directly impacts consumers."

Researchers stated that, combined with "appropriate government policies and infrastructure investments," the NextGen system would "reduce the identified costs by a very large percentage."

Congressman Garamendi added "We must invest in the infrastructure of our nation. We can save money and save lives. Additionally, by requiring that taxpayer dollars for these projects go towards U.S. based companies, we can bolster American manufacturing and Make It In America again."

The Berkeley report is the first rigorous study to look at the impact of flight delay on the economy as a whole. Lead researcher Mark Hansen, a UC Berkeley civil and environmental engineering professor, said that previous studies had focused on the cost to airlines. By contrast, this study analyzed the complex relationship between flight delay and passenger delay, and considered how degraded service quality affects the demand for air travel.

In addition to the direct costs to the airline and its customers, flight delays have indirect effects on the U.S. economy. The study estimated that air transportation delays reduced the 2007 U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by $4 billion.

The study includes costs not previously tallied as part of a single data set:
• The cost to passengers based on passenger time lost, delayed flights, flight cancellations, and missed flight connections on multi-leg flights
• The cost of hidden delays, that is, delays that the airlines anticipate and thus build into "padded" or "buffered" schedules
• The cost of forced rescheduling due to runway capacity limitations
• The cost to passengers of additional time spent away from home because of anticipated delays
• The total cost of lost demand from potential airline customers who used alternatives such as traveling by automobile, or conducting their business using telecons and video conferencing, rather than face airline delays
• The impact of delays and cancellations on the GDP based on lost productivity

The new study emphasizes that not all delays can or should be eliminated, especially delays due to mechanical failures and severe weather that are necessary to protect passenger safety. Lead researcher Professor Hansen explained that the study intended to provide a frame of reference for decision-makers to assess the magnitude of the flight delay problem and the need for initiatives to address it.

UC Berkeley Press Release:

Full Report:

For information on Garamendi's work to improve transportation and infrastructure in the Bay Area and across the country, please visit /issue/transportation.

Direct cost of air transportation delay in 2007:
Cost Component, Cost (in billions)
Costs to Airlines, $8.3
Costs to Passengers, $16.7
Costs from Lost Demand, $3.9
Total Direct Cost, $28.9
Impact on GDP, $4.0
Total Cost, $32.9