The congressional Joint Economic Committee, in a report released Thursday, found that the total cost of domestic air traffic delays to the American economy in 2007 was almost $41 billion.
That included $19 billion in extra operating costs for the airlines, $12 billion in costs to passengers from reduced productivity and lost business and leisure opportunities and almost $10 billion in indirect costs, particularly to food and lodging industries that rely on air traffic.
"Passengers, airlines and our economy felt a $41 billion punch in the gut from flight delays," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the committee. "With the summer travel season being kicked off with Memorial Day, delays and the costs of those delays will only go up."
Missed connections, disrupted ground travel plans, lost pre-paid hotel reservations and missed meetings were among the factors considered for passenger costs.
Schumer, presenting the report along with committee Vice Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the cost estimate was conservative because it did not include flights canceled entirely and applied only to domestic flights.
Delays, he said, "aren't just an annoyance, they are a serious blow to our economy."
The costs to the airlines included $1.6 billion to pay for extra jet fuel. The report said there were 740 million additional gallons of jet fuel used, and calculated the cost assuming an average wholesale price of $2.15 a gallon last year.
It said that burning fuel during delays released an additional 7.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The committee examined more than 10 million individual flight records from the Department of Transportation. It used DOT guidelines in setting a value of $37.60 per passenger per delay hour.
Those delays reached 320 million hours last year, about 20 percent of domestic flight time. The worst delays were experienced out of major airports in the Northeast and Midwest. Estimated minutes of departure delay per passenger were 30 minutes out of New York Laguardia, 27 minutes out of JFK in New York, 25 minutes at Philadelphia International and 21 minutes at Chicago's O'Hare.
Schumer said the committee found that only 6 percent of delays were caused by weather or security-related issues. The overwhelming causes were systemic congestion problems that will only get worse as air passengers increase from about 700 million a year today to an estimated 1.1 billion in 2025.
He said the Federal Aviation Administration should move quickly to modernize its air traffic control system and increase the number of air traffic controllers.
The Senate earlier this month considered major legislation to overhaul the FAA, but the bill failed to advance because of partisan differences over non-aviation-related measures in the bill.
The FAA said Thursday that it is taking several steps to reduce delays during the summer travel season. It will increase capacity along the East Coast over the Atlantic by reducing lateral separation from 90 miles to 50 miles for aircraft with avionics that provide an appropriate level of accuracy.
It said that new routes will be in place to provide other options during periods of severe weather and it will use a program launched last year that automatically identifies unused arrival slots at airports affected by delays.