Government fines Delta regional carrier $10,000 for fudging tarmac delay numbers

Looks as if Pinnacle Airlines, a regional carrier for Delta Air Lines, may be the first carrier to run afoul of the government’s new three-hour rule for tarmac delays.

The Transportation Department yesterday announced it had fined Pinnacle $10,000 for failure to report accurate on-time performance information to the government.

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The specifics are in the consent order (PDF).

Here’s how Pinnacle got itself into trouble, according to the government. For its May numbers, the airline reported a tarmac delay in excess of three hours. Under a new rule, the airline would have faced fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.

So the government investigated the delay.

According to the consent order,

After the Office of Aviation Enforcement and Proceedings (Enforcement Office) initiated an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the delay, Pinnacle reexamined its data and concluded that it had made an erroneous report to the Department and that the actual length of the delay was less than three hours.

Pinnacle’s failure to submit accurate data and belatedly advising the Department of the data problem delayed issuance of the July 2010 ATCR and delayed posting of the new data on the BTS website. The work associated with those delays and the delay in the issuance of the related press release required the unnecessary use of government resources.

Hmm. So maybe Pinnacle didn’t get the memo about the new three-hour rule and then reconsidered its original report. Here’s what it had to say for itself:

Pinnacle states that the error in its report was inadvertent.

Pinnacle states that in order to ensure no future errors occur in its Form 234 reports, it is revising its System Operations Control manual to provide multiple levels of review of tarmac delay data. Pinnacle further states that it is re-training all persons responsible for reporting flight times to the Department to ensure that the new procedures are followed and to re-emphasize the importance of accurate reporting to the Department.

Pinnacle adds that it is committed to compliance with all applicable Federal aviation regulations.

Fair enough.

I’m still unconvinced that a three-hour rule was needed, or that the proposed fines for airlines that violate it are appropriate. These extraordinary delays only affect a small segment of the flying public. A small, but vocal segment.

And the result is that airlines are now playing numbers games with the government, which is wasting taxpayer money. There’s gotta be a better way.

(Photo: Cari bb/Flickr Creative Commons)