Image: Labor Day travelers, 2006
Mark Wilson  /  Getty Images file
Travelers inch ahead in a security line at Ronald Reagan National Airport over Labor Day weekend last year.
updated 8/23/2007 12:25:59 PM ET 2007-08-23T16:25:59

Despite record-level delays, nearly 16 million passengers will fly on U.S. airlines over the Labor Day weekend, a 2.6 percent increase over a year ago, estimates an industry group.

The Air Transport Association on Thursday forecast 15.7 million passengers will travel globally on U.S. airlines between Aug. 29 and Sept. 5.

The group, which represents AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, UAL Corp.’s United Airlines and others, said while most delays would be weather related, a modernized air traffic control system is needed to reduce air traffic congestion.

The airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration are pushing Congress to authorize financing of a multibillion-dollar upgrade of the air traffic control system. There is an ongoing dispute over what share the commercial airlines should pay and whether corporate jets and small plane operators should shoulder more of the cost.

The antiquated system uses 50-year-old analog radar technology. An updated system would use global-positioning satellites that could handle nearly three times current levels of traffic. It would also allow aircraft to fly closer together safely, experts say.

“While we cannot get in the way of Mother Nature, passengers can demand that Congress fairly fund the sorely needed modernization of our nation’s airspace, which can help to mitigate future delays,” James May, ATA’s president and CEO, said in a release.

Passenger delays are at 12-year highs. The Department of Transportation earlier this month said the industry’s on-time performance in the first half of 2007 was its worst since comparable data began being collected in 1995. Nearly a third of domestic flights on major U.S. airlines were late in June.

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