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Travelers stand in line at the United Airlines Terminal at O'Hare International Airport earlier this year. The FAA told airline executives Wednesday to ease delays at the busy Chicago airport.
updated 8/4/2004 8:12:30 PM ET 2004-08-05T00:12:30

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration told airline executives Wednesday that if they won't voluntarily reduce flight schedules at Chicago's congested O'Hare International Airport, the government will do it for them.

"We cannot let schedules at O'Hare hold the whole system hostage," FAA Administrator Marion Blakey told the executives. "You can't control the weather, but you can control your schedule."

Flight delays have reached historic levels at O'Hare, and representatives of every major airline convened here Wednesday to talk about the problem.

On-time arrivals at O'Hare this year are lower than for the past four years. Only 67 percent of flights arrive there on-time. The FAA tries to achieve a systemwide on-time performance of 82 percent.

Video: Pilot on O'Hare frustration "If it weren't for O'Hare, we'd be making that goal," Blakey said.

Thirty-seven percent of the delays are greater than one hour.

Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said officials cannot allow congestion at O'Hare to become a chokepoint for the air transportation system.

"We are going to do something about this problem right here and now," he said. Mineta said there had been 58,600 delays at O'Hare over the last six months, more than the full-year totals for 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Every minute that a passenger waits takes $30 from an airline's bottom line, officials have estimated.

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