Misery for travellers as flight delays soar

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AIR TRAVELLERS suffered a summer of chaos this year, according to figures to be published this week. Delays at UK airports increased sharply.

Data from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) will show more delays for scheduled and charter airlines in the three months to September driven by growing numbers of flights and passengers. The increase will renew concerns about pressure on air traffic controllers.

The rise is the latest in a three-year trend. While the amount of time wasted was cut steadily between 1992 and 1995, delays are now back to the level of six years ago.

Figures for the three months to June showed the average delay for charter flights increased from 40 to 43 minutes compared with the same period in 1997. Average delays to scheduled flights climbed from 14 to 15 minutes. The worst-performing charter airports were Stansted (average delay 49 minutes) and Luton (48 minutes), where delays almost doubled since 1997.

The figures will add to safety worries. It emerged in August that air traffic controllers had filed a record number of "overload" reports so far this year. On one day in July controllers had to work frantically to clear a seven-hour backlog caused by thunderstorms.

The West Drayton air traffic control centre handles more than 4,000 flights a day, 25 per cent more than four years ago. The CAA says its new control centre at Swanwick, Hampshire - which, it is confident, will open in 2002 - is designed to cope with present and future growth.

The figures include the holiday peak in August, which is expected to set a record for passenger numbers. The rise in flight numbers has been exacerbated by the growth in cut-price, scheduled airlines led by GO, the British Airways subsidiary.