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US Airways Tops in On-Time Performance

The March on-time arrival rate of 79.1% meant the airline was also the best in the first quarter, with an on-time rate of 78.3%.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As it moves closer to a merger,

US Airways


may have many problems, but a lack of operational integrity is no longer among them.

In March, the carrier, which sources say is involved in advanced merger negotiations with United, a unit of



, ranked first among the 10 largest carriers in on-time performance, its third No. 1 ranking in four months, as measured by the Transportation Department.

The March on-time arrival rate of 79.1% meant the airline was also the best in the first quarter, with an on-time rate of 78.3%.

By contrast, in the same month a year earlier, US Airways ranked last, with an on-time rate of 55.5%. The month represented a low point for the carrier, which suffered a schedule meltdown following a botched effort to move to a single reservations system following the 2005 merger with America West. Its impact kept US Airways at the bottom of the DOT's performance measure for most of the year.

By the time veteran airline executive Robert Isom signed on as chief operating officer in September, a recovery had begun and employees were "tired of getting beat up every day" in performance rankings, Isom said.

"Everybody had a desire to pull it up," he said. "It's not about managing A14," or arrivals within 14 minutes of schedule, which is measured by DOT. "It's about moving the planes out on time, getting out of the gate on time, getting everybody to set up a countdown to departure."

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The effort included ensuring that every employee focuses on the same metric, "departure to zero," or departure at the exact scheduled time. In the past, airport agents might have focused on hitting that target, while others employees might have focused on meeting five- or 10-minute variances.

For many airline workers, who are not directly involved in achieving financial goals, on-time performance is the truest measure of corporate performance.

In some cases, US Airways also increased published flight times so that schedules could be met, especially for flights utilizing crowded Northeast airspace. Isom said the changes were part of a comprehensive schedule realignment that also included reducing the size of some banks of flights, and increasing the amount of time allocated for passengers to make connections.

At Philadelphia International Airport, long a trouble spot, US Airways has boosted its on-time performance by adding employees, buying ground equipment, upgrading facilities and establishing a regional headquarters as part of an effort to improve a long-chilly relationship with airport administrators. "We've had a real change in terms of the way the airline and city get along," Isom said.

Changes have also been made at meetings where managers review schedule integrity in minute detail. Isom said the airline has made its weekly meetings more comprehensive, and has combined daily meetings that previously considered east and west operations separately. "It has absolutely had an impact," he said. "It's one system."

The momentum continued into April, Isom said, where internal numbers show an A14 arrival rate of 81.3%, which will likely place the carrier among the top three performers on the DOT list.

During March, according to the DOT, the airport with the best on-time departure performance was Salt Lake City, a hub for


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. The airport with the worst on-time departure performance was Newark, a hub for


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