3 March 2003

Britain's air delays worst in Europe

By Paul Marston, Transport Correspondent

Travellers flying to and from Britain suffered the worst delays of any European country last year, new statistics show.

As passengers face higher fares to cover a huge increase in the cost of building
Heathrow's fifth terminal, figures compiled by Eurocontrol show that delays rose by 30 per cent.

In 2001 almost 210,000 flights suffered serious delays. Last year's figure was 274,000 because of congestion and problems at the new Swanwick control centre.

Eurocontrol, which supervises aircraft movements between 24 countries, says that of all the national hubs Heathrow suffered "by far the largest rise" in lateness.

Delays caused by restricted runway capacity and aircraft parking problems increased at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted.

While new procedures and equipment reduced Europe's overall delay figure by more than a third, Britain's share soared from 14 per cent to 37. Only Italy had an increase of more than one per cent.

Of the 10 region-to-region traffic flows suffering the most delay in Europe last year, all began or ended in Britain. The average hold-up was 25 minutes, more than 10 times the average for all European flights.

National Air Traffic Services, which was part-privatised in 2001, said the figures from the Brussels-based organisation were "disappointing".

It said the move to Swanwick early last year had led to restricted traffic flows for three months, aggravated by a shortage of controllers. In the first two months of this year delays had been "only half as bad".