2008 worst year for cancelled or late flights

MORE domestic flights are being cancelled and delayed than ever before, with a quarter of all flights not arriving as scheduled last year.

Figures from the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics show that flight reliability from January to November 2008 was at its worst since records were first kept five years ago.

One in 50 flights were cancelled and 23 per cent of all services arrived late. This compares with cancellations of one in 100 flights and 17 per cent of services late for the same period in 2007, previously the worst year on record.

The poor results came in a difficult year for the airlines in which a dispute between air traffic controllers and their employer, Airservices Australia, affected scores of flights.

In May, aircraft engineers went on strike over pay negotiations with Qantas that led to additional cancellations over two months.

A Qantas spokesman said its service reliability was the best in the industry before the strikes.

He said its November results — in which it performed significantly better than main rival Virgin Blue — confirmed this, but infrastructure limitations at some airports continued to affect the results.

A Virgin Blue spokeswoman said wild weather, air traffic controller shortages and congestion at Sydney Airport had all contributed to a "frustrating" year.

A spokesman for Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the Government had inherited an aviation industry hampered by skills shortages and underinvestment.

He said ongoing reliability of domestic flights would be addressed in the Government's aviation white paper to be released in the second half of this year.

The worst-performing route for punctuality was between Melbourne and Sydney, the country's busiest route.