updated 11/15/2007 3:12:55 PM ET 2007-11-15T20:12:55

U.S. airlines are on pace to carry a record number of passengers this year, a government agency said, at the same time they are also struggling with their worst-ever flight delays.

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Over 522 million passengers flew on U.S. airlines in the first eight months of this year, the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics said Thursday, up 3.4 percent from the same period in 2006.

The airlines carried 71.1 million domestic and international passengers in August, the most recent month statistics are available, the BTS said, up 7 percent from August 2006.

That number follows July's record of 72.2 million passengers.

Domestic and international flights were 81.2 percent full in the first eight months of this year, BTS said last week, another record.

At the same time, the industry's on-time performance in 2007 is the worst since comparable data began being collected in 1995. More than 24 percent of flights arrived late in the first nine months of 2007.

Meanwhile, an industry group said earlier this week it expects heavily-crowded flights over the 12 days beginning Nov. 16 for the Thanksgiving holiday, with flights up to 90 percent full.

And on Thursday the White House announced that the Pentagon will open unused military airspace from Florida to Maine to create "a Thanksgiving express lane" for commercial airliners.

Southwest Airlines remained the top U.S. carrier in August, flying 9.6 million passengers on domestic and international flights. AMR Corp.'s American Airlines was next, with 8.8 million passengers.

Delta Air Lines Inc., UAL Corp.'s United and Northwest Airlines Corp. rounded out the top five, with 6.8 million, 6.3 million and 4.9 million passengers, respectively.

American Airlines carried the most international passengers, with 2 million, followed by Continental Airlines Inc. and Delta, with 1.2 million and 1.1 million, respectively.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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