US transport chief sets new tarmac delay targets

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced new airline passenger protections that will expand the current ban on lengthy tarmac delays.
The new rule will now extend to cover foreign airlines’ operations at US airports and establishes a four hour hard time limit on tarmac delays.
Carriers must also ensure that passengers stuck on the tarmac are provided adequate food and water after two hours, as well as working lavatories and any necessary medical treatment.
The extended tarmac delays experienced by passengers on international flights operated by foreign carriers at New York’s JFK Airport during the December 2010 blizzard was an important factor in the Department of Transportation´s decision to extend the tarmac delay provisions to foreign air carriers and establish a four hour tarmac delay limit for international flights.
The new rules will also require more airlines to report lengthy tarmac delays at US airports, including data for international flights and charter flights.
Previously, only the 16 largest US passenger carriers were required to file this data, and only for domestic scheduled flights.
The rulemaking builds on passenger protections issued in December 2009, which prohibited US airlines operating domestic flights from permitting an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than three hours, with exceptions for safety, security and air traffic control related-reasons.
The rule also required these airlines to post on-time performance information for each domestic flight they or their code-share partners operate.
The rule has resulted in the near-elimination of lengthy tarmac delays. Between May 2010 and February 2011, the first full 10 months the rule was in effect, the largest US airlines reported only 16 tarmac delays of more than three hours, compared to 664 from May 2009 through February 2010.
“Airline passengers have a right to be treated fairly,” said Secretary LaHood.