Flights by U.S. airlines hit 10-year low

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 14, 2012 6:22pm EST

Two ground crew members walk past a United Airlines airplane as it sits at a gate at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, June 18, 2011. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

Two ground crew members walk past a United Airlines airplane as it sits at a gate at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, June 18, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Hershorn

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. airlines in 2011 operated the fewest number of flights since the hijack attacks on New York and Washington depressed air travel and accelerated the industry's worst-ever financial downturn, government figures on Tuesday showed.

The Transportation Department said major airlines, their chief low-cost competitors and the biggest regional carriers, recorded 6.08 million departures last year. Takeoffs were not that low since 2002, when they totaled 5.27 million.

Reduced operations and good summer weather, especially in the East, helped airlines post a 79 percent on-time rating in 2011, unchanged from the previous two years.

The overall number of flights by U.S. airlines have steadily declined since 2008 when the recession dampened travel demand. Most recently, stubbornly high fuel prices have prompted airlines to further cut capacity to reduce costs and maintain higher fares.

The industry operating figures were released as President Barack Obama signed into law $63 billion legislation authorizing guaranteed funding of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through 2015.

The FAA oversees U.S. air traffic operations at more than 400 airports.

The measure approved by Congress last week also includes funding for the next steps in transforming the air traffic network from a radar-based system to one relying on satellites.

Proponents say the change will allow for more flights, better routing and fewer delays.

(Reporting By John Crawley; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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