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Airline Tarmac Delays Drop to 3 From 268 in June, U.S. Says

Airline flights stuck on tarmacs for more than three hours fell to three in June, the second month of a rule that fines carriers for such delays, from 268 a year ago, according to a U.S. report. Cancellations were unchanged.

The 18 U.S. carriers reporting scrapped 1.5 percent of flights in the month, the same rate as a year earlier, the Transportation Department said today in a statement. The airline industry had said more flights would be canceled as carriers sought to avoid breaching the three-hour limit.

The rule pushed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in effect since April 29, imposes fines as high as $27,500 for each customer when an airline fails to free passengers after three hours on an aircraft. The rule applies to domestic flights.

“This is extremely positive news for consumers,” said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, which lobbied for higher penalties. “Airlines have surprised everyone in their ability to respond to this rule in short order.”

The Air Transport Association, representing carriers including Delta Air Lines Inc. and UAL Corp.’s United Airlines, led opponents, saying a three-hour limit would cause a higher rate of canceled flights and greater passenger inconvenience.

“Flight delays and cancellations vary significantly from month to month as a result of variables, including weather and airspace congestion,” Victoria Day, ATA spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement. Airlines “will continue to fully comply with the new tarmac delay rule.”

Winds, Power Outages

United Airlines, among carriers filing reports, accounted for the month’s delays, on three flights departing Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on June 18 when a severe afternoon thunderstorm raked northern Illinois. None of those flights was delayed by more than three hours and five minutes, according to the statement.

Winds as high as 77 miles per hour knocked out windows at the former Sears Tower in downtown Chicago, and about 300,000 customers lost power, the Chicago Tribune reported on June 19.

LaHood pushed the rule after several airlines stranded passengers on aircraft. AMR Corp.’s American and JetBlue Airways Corp. kept planes on the ground for as long as 10 1/2 hours in late 2006 and early 2007, fueling passenger protests. Continental and two regional partners were fined $175,000 in November for holding 47 customers on a plane overnight at Rochester, Minnesota, last year. The fine could have been as much as $1.29 million under the new restrictions.

In May, regulators reported five flight delays of more than three hours. An investigation determined that four of the five were misreported by the airline, the department said today.

Transportation Department spokesman Bill Mosley declined to comment beyond today’s news release.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeff Plungis in Washington at jplungis@bloomberg.net.

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