Did the airline industry fund controversial tarmac delay study?

by Christopher Elliott on July 30, 2010


A new study by a team of aviation consultants, which claims the government’s new tarmac delay rule will cost the flying public $3.9 billion during the next two decades, is making waves in the aviation industry and beyond.

The Transportation Department yesterday issued a rare rebuttal, in which it called the study “questionable.”

The numbers used by the consultants, it said, were “far too narrow” to yield defensible conclusions about future airline trends. “Further,” it added, “the data reported in May 2010 does not support the industry consultants’ claims about rising numbers of airline cancellations.”

Surely the analysts must have known they were stretching things a little when they based their conclusions on one month of cancellation data. So why do it?

Maybe it was the money.

Some observers have suggested, and others have reported, that the airline industry funded this study. They have good reason to be suspicious: The study’s conclusions reflect the industry’s predictions before the new tarmac delay rule was enacted.

As one commenter on the Chicago Tribune site noted,

I read this story and had to laugh. A ‘study’ by a couple of airline consultants taking one month of data and extrapolating it over many years. The results just happen to echo what the airlines said would happen prior to the rule being implemented. Gee, I wonder who funded the study?

I asked Darryl Jenkins, one of the researchers, who paid for the study.

“Done in house at our own expense to promote our web sites,” he told me in an email. “A lot of fun.”

The other consultant, Joshua Marks, has contracted with airlines on previous projects, according to his site, although it’s unclear if the airline industry or its lobbying arm, the Air Transport Association, had anything to do with this project.

I’m willing to take Jenkins at his word when he says the airline industry didn’t fund this work. What’s more, I agree with many of his conclusions — notably, that the three-hour rule is just too onerous to be practical.

Perhaps the “who paid for the study” question is the wrong one to be asking. Maybe it should be the other way around. If Jenkins and Marks had never received any airline money, either indirectly or directly, would they have undertaken this study?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

(Photo: Francois Roche/Flickr Creative Commons)

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  • John Baker

    This is a case of big old “DUH.” Even if the airline didn’t fund the study… what do you think the chances are that they do fund a follow up study using these two guys or the two see an increase in business?

    Ultimately, I think that the airlines should be held accountable for things that they can control. When they board the aircraft and how they treat those trapped on the aircraft.

    I’ve flown enough to have boarded an aircraft only to hear the pilot and the air crew talking about a 2 – 3 hour ATC ground hold that we were going to taxi away from the gate to sit and waiting on. There were free gates on either side of the aircraft (heck it was CVG with half the gates going unused) so the normal excuse of “they needed the gate” didn’t hold either. We ended up with a 45 min hold before we were released. This is a clear case where there was no reason for the aircraft to leave the gate.

    The Jetblue aircraft taxiing into a snow storm 3(?) Februarys ago only to sit for hours is another.

  • Lyn G

    I don’t care who funded the study or what the conclusions are. All I want is a law or rule that forces an airline to let passengers off the plane after 3 hours. That will make pilots, dispatchers, and everyone else associated with sending an aircraft away from a gate think twice before doing so if there are circumstances which may dictate the plane won’t necessarily be able to take off immediately.

  • jeff

    Last week I flew out of Berlin Tegel on Air Berlin. Due to the Greek air traffic controller work action we were delayed by about 2.5 hours waiting for a slot to transit the Mediterranean Sea. We sat at the gate with the door open until we got the ok to go.

  • Frank

    There were free gates on either side of the aircraft (heck it was CVG with half the gates going unused) so the normal excuse of “they needed the gate” didn’t hold either. We ended up with a 45 min hold before we were released. This is a clear case where there was no reason for the aircraft to leave the gate.
    ================================================

    @ John,

    So? Where do you want to be when you get the notice of your release? In the Bar, inside the terminal when the gate agents now have to ROUND EVERYONE up and get them back into the aircraft, get everyone seated. Keep announcing for those who didnt hear the gate announcement. Now, possibly off load their bags if they no show.
    OR at the end of the runway? Where you may even make up that 45 minute delay and arrive on time, possibly important to some who are holding connections?

  • John

    @Frank … I’d rather be in the terminal where I had rerouting options since the 2-3 hour delay meant I was going to miss my connection.

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