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Airlines cite furloughs for spike in tardiness

The nation’s airlines struggled to stay on schedule in April, with nearly one in four flights arriving late, according to new government figures.

The airlines blamed furloughs of federal air traffic controllers and bad weather. A nationwide computer outage at American Airlines added to the slowdown.

The Transportation Department said Thursday that among the 16 airlines that report such information, only 77.3 percent of flights arrived on time in April. That was down sharply from 86.3 percent in the same month last year and below the April average of 80.26 percent for the previous 18 years.

Nearly 2 percent of all domestic flights were canceled in April, almost double the rate from the previous April.

Asked for an explanation, Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for trade group Airlines for America, replied, “Short answer? Government-imposed air traffic controller furloughs.”

In mid-April, the Federal Aviation Administration began ordering about 10 percent of its controllers to stay home each day to help the agency meet automatic spending cuts. With fewer controllers to watch busy airspace, traffic slowed. After five days of complaints by airlines and passengers, Congress rushed through a bill to end the furloughs.

The airlines told the Transportation Department that 34.3 percent of April’s delays were caused by bad weather, up from 28.5 percent in April 2012. They said that only 5.3 percent of delays were due to factors within their control, such as maintenance problems or crew shortages, although that was a slight increase over April 2012.

Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines had the best on-time marks, with each over 85 percent, the government said.

The worst performance was turned in by American Eagle, with just 67 percent of flights arriving on time. Eagle is the regional airline of AMR Corp., whose American Airlines subsidiary had the poorest rating among the nation’s five biggest carriers.

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