Transportation bureau system gets the details on flight delays

Transportation bureau system gets the details on flight delays

If BTS knows the causes of flight delays and cancellations, director Ashish K. Sen says, it can do more to prevent them.

The Transportation Department is collecting the causes of flight delays and cancellations, and posting them online.

Under a new rule, the department requires the 10 largest airlines to file monthly reports with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics detailing the causes of flight delays and cancellations. To make that data available on the Web, the bureau has retired its mainframe system and migrated data to Unix servers and a more flexible database.

Until recently, airlines were required only to report cancelled flights and the true departure, takeoff, landing and arrival times of delayed flights. 'Our initiative started when we had delays last summer before 9-11,' BTS director Ashish K. Sen said. 'The big issue was the quality of service the airlines were offering. And if you knew what the predominant causes [of delays and cancellations] were, you would figure out how to make them better.'

In March 2001 the bureau awarded a $200,000 contract to Foresti Technologies Inc. of Westmont, Ill., and MacroSys Research and Technology Inc. of Washington to migrate the report data from the mainframe. The mainframe, which the bureau shares with the Federal Highway Administration, was housed in Austin and ran IBM's OS/390.

Many ways to file data

Airlines submit the flight data to the bureau by mail, fax, e-mail, diskettes or cartridge tapes.

The Office of Airline Information office checks the data to see if it's complete and formatted properly, then inserts additional information. In the last phase, hundreds of individual reports and data sets are created, and data is placed in flat files and an Adaptive Server IQ 12.x database management system from Sybase Inc., said Marianne M. Seguin, a computer specialist at the office.

The bureau has 2,351 tape files stored in Austin and data collected from airlines since 1985.

In the new system, reports are generated, edited and validated on servers running Sun Solaris 7. The bureau completed migrating the data in February.

One of the new system's benefits is that it improves accessibility to data, Seguin said. With the mainframe, Transportation and its 10 agencies had access to the data, but anyone outside the department who wanted the information had to order reports on digital tapes or visit the BTS library in Washington.

That time-consuming problem is eliminated by the new system.

'The aim ultimately is to make all the data available online,' Sen said.

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