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Weather, fuel and sickness spark plague of flight delays

January 23, 2019 Headline News No Comments

Flight delays have become a daily event at Australia’s biggest airports, with travellers receiving more than their usual share of frustration last weekend and problems showing little sign of improving.

Hot weather, strong winds and air traffic control workers calling in sick caused chaos in Sydney on Saturday. Fewer air traffic controllers working on the late shift meant fewer aircraft were cleared for takeoff and landing. Airlines cancelled a total of 39 flights.

A Jetstar flight from Tasmania to Sydney was diverted to Canberra and passengers forced to continue their journey by bus.

On Sunday, Melbourne Airport warned that “our baggage system in T3 is processing luggage at a slower rate due to construction works. If you are travelling on a Virgin Australia domestic service please allow extra travel time today. For flight information please speak to your airline.”

Problems at airports, leading to delays, appear to be worsening. For November 2018, on-time performance over all routes operated by domestic airlines (Jetstar, Qantas, QantasLink, Regional Express, Tigerair Australia, Virgin Australia and Virgin Australia Regional Airlines) averaged 74.9% for on-time arrivals and 76.4% for on-time departures. Cancellations represented 2.8 per cent of all scheduled flights.

Last year’s performance was far better. Figures for November 2017 were 80.2% for on-time arrivals, 81.2% for on-time departures and 1.8% for cancellations.

Sydney Airport

 A recent case illustrates the problem. Passengers aboard an evening Jetstar flight from Hobart to Sydney last Friday found themselves stuck at Canberra Airport in the early hours of Saturday morning after their flight was diverted there.

ABC News reported that the 177 people aboard Jetstar’s Airbus A320 flight JQ724 from Hobart were due to arrive in Sydney 9.55pm, but instead landed in Canberra around 10.30pm, where they were kept on the plane until midnight.

At 11am the following day, passengers boarded a bus for the three-hour bus journey to Sydney.

A man who said he was on the aircraft said passengers were told “we don’t have enough fuel” to wait for the backlog of planes to land in Sydney.

“The pilot said due to bad weather there’s a lot of air traffic in Sydney and planes are waiting and basically flying around the airport and we don’t have enough fuel,” the man told ABC News.

In a statement, Jetstar said:

Following Sydney air traffic control’s instructions due to strong winds, a flight from Hobart to Sydney yesterday diverted to Canberra.  

Our captain diverted to Canberra where weather conditions were better and landed the plane normally.

 All customers were provided hotel accommodation in Canberra and buses were arranged to transport everyone to Sydney the next morning. 

Safety is our highest priority and we apologise to customers for this disruption. 

The Australian newspaper has pointed out that at least one in four arrivals in Ausralia’s biggest airports is more than 15 minutes behind schedule, which means Australia is falling behind El Salvador’s capital, Japan’s main airports and some Indian cities in terms of on-time air travel.

Statistics show that in November, an average of 25.1% of flights arrived late at airports around the country, and 23.6% of departures were delayed.

Melbourne had the worst on-time performance of any airport with more than a third of arriving flights late (35%), and close to 30% of departures.

Sydney was not much better. More than a quarter of flights departed behind schedule or arrived at least 15 minutes late.

Air travel data network OAG figures found that last year, Japanese airports took five of the top 10 spots for best on-time performance. Nagoya Komaki Airport managed to land 94.5% of flights on time, followed by Hilo in Hawaii with 91.4%.

Chennai in India has a better punctuality record than Sydney or Melbourne (79.8%) and so does San Salvador in El Salvador (84.7%) and Beirut (78.6%). A few places are worse than Sydney or Melbourne in terms of on-time departures and arrivals. Islamabad, for instance, scores only 56.9%.

Written by Peter Needham

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