US Airways Gives a Unique Perspective on the Three Hour Delay Rule

Yesterday was US Airways media day, and I made my way to Phoenix to attend. As US Airways Media Dayusual, it was a good day but there wasn’t any big news to announce. (I think they were hoping to announce a merger, but, well, that ain’t happening. You can read more about that on BNET).

During the Q&A, there was a very interesting discussion on the 3 hour ground delay rule which goes into effect this week. I thought it was worth replaying the discussion here to show a pretty unique perspective.

Joe Sharkey, long-time aviation journalist, asked, “the tarmac rules take effect this week. What’s your prediction for the likelihood for preemptive cancellations?

COO Robert Isom took the mike first and responded:

We’ve imposed the new DOT regulations on ourselves this whole past month. It’s been a pretty good weather month, and we saw the kind of impact it would have on a small scale.

There were a number of flighst that had to turn back and a few people that wanted to get off. The biggest issues will come up during the summer. Not only is there not enough room at hub airports out on the tarmac but there aren’t enough gates to handle all the airplanes that are supposed to take off and those who are going to land.

Because there could be so much congestion, you have to leave yourselves exit points on the airport grounds in order to get planes back, so you’re going to reduce your overall capacity.

What I would envision is a lot of cautiousness. The defense we have is canceling flights.

In April, we had very little impact to the operation. It wasn’t a busy month weather-wise.

At that point, Chairman and CEO Doug Parker took the mike and went off in a surprising direction.

There absolutely will be cancellations that won’t be canceled otherwise. I don’t want to sound like we’re complaining, like some other airlines out there. Fact is, we [the industry] got ourselves in this mess. Fortunately it wasn’t us [US Airways] but in some of these siutations, maybe we’re just fortunate.

This has been going on for awhile and we’ve been warned that we needed to get it fixed so shame on us. If you don’t fix it you’ll get legislation. The legislation is not going to be perfect and there will be unintended consequences, but we just have to deal with it.

More than likely, it’ll be preemptive – we’ll start canceling flights. $27,500 per passenger is a little more than each passenger pays.

The really bad part of this legislation is that when you look at these events, almost every one of them landed somewhere – diversion or something. Let’s have fines for that, but let’s not have fines for people trying to get out of airports, but that’s the problem we’ve now created.

We’re going to have airplanes never depart that should depart and that’s unfortunate. But again, we did it to ourselves.

Bet you didn’t see that coming, huh? The man has got a point. We can talk about whether it’s good or bad, but hey, they just have to deal with it regardless. I have no doubt that SVP Public Affairs C.A. Howlett is doing what he can to advocate for US Airways in Washington, but from an operational perspective, it’s just time to deal with it.

I’m looking forward to seeing the operational numbers. There have already been some cancellations, but we haven’t seen much because of the benign weather. Just wait until the first massive summer thunderstorm hits and then we’ll have some interesting numbers.

One thing is clear. We’re not going to see planes on the ground for more than 3 hours at US Airways. They’ll just be canceled before that even becomes a possibility.

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