The U.S. Travel Association estimates that the nearly 3,900 flight cancelations in the four days following a fire at an air traffic control facility in the Chicago area cost nearly $123 million in passengers' lost economic activity during that same time.
"This incident clearly demonstrates the vital importance of the air travel sector to the American economy," said U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow. "We should not be in a position where a singular event such as this can cripple air travel and disrupt the plans of thousands of travelers. If policymakers fail to treat this as a wake-up call, and continue to delay significant investments in our fragile aviation infrastructure, we can count on some similar variant of this incident happening again."
Official reports revealed the damage was caused by an early morning fire set by an employee on September 27 in an Aurora, Illinois, air traffic control facility. The economic impact of the fire could ultimately be much greater, as the calculations exclude the currently unknown number of delayed flights and the prolonged impact beyond those first six days; some estimates initially held that the region would operate at only 60 percent of normal flight capacity through much of October.
Economists at the U.S. Travel Association have calculated that the cancelation of one U.S. domestic flight costs $31,600 in passengers' direct economic activity. The direct-impact figure includes the costs of canceled trips, passenger time lost, missed connections, and missed travel activities.
"These numbers would have been significantly higher if this happened around Thanksgiving or Christmas or other high-volume air travel holidays," said Dow. "I hope we can work with our policy leaders to modernize the system so that we won't have to see just how badly an event like this could cripple the system during a major travel period."