Nate Silver is getting into the airline tracking business

Statistician guru Nate Silver is getting into the airline tracking businesses.

Silver, who made a name for himself in the 2008 presidential election when he correctly predicted the results of the presidential election in 49 of 50 states, along with all 35 U.S. Senate races, is applying his statistical know how to air travel.

His website FiveThirtyEight, which was folded into ESPN, will feature an interactive tool that allows fliers to evaluate airline delay information.

The numbers are based on “reams” of federal data on flight times, Silver said.

"Flight delays cost the equivalent of about $160 billion a year in lost productivity, which is about 1% of the whole economy," Silver told USA Today. "Better ways to avoid them would be something good. To be able to claw even a few minutes of that back seems like it's valuable to me."


Instead of traditional flight trackers which count a flight as “on-time” if it arrives within 15 minutes of its original scheduled time, Silver’s tool takes a theoretically simpler approach.

The FiveThirtyEight flight feature looks at the ideal time it should take a flight on any given course or “target flight time.” This basically cuts out all variables like besides distance, direction and speed of travel.

"Fundamentally, you fly in one direction at 500-and-some miles per hour and it shouldn't be that complicated," Silver says. "But, of course, it is."

According to Silver, the tool will be most helpful for fliers trying to figure out what airlines and airports have flights that perform closest to the ideal expected trip time. Though the statistics expert notes that many airports experience high traffic volume creating delays, weather at certain cities can be worse and approach patterns all contribute to above-average trip routes.

Anyone whose been stuck on a tarmac knows all too well that variables besides route can dramatically increase flight time.

For example, Silver notes that the relatively short flight between Chicago O’Hare and New York is “just about the worst route you can fly in the country, because both the airport of departure and the airport of arrival have significant delays.”

He went on to explain that some airlines may even pad an extra 40 minutes in their schedule to account for airport delays.

"If the flight is that slow, then do you blame American and United – or are they doing as well as they can relative to flying this very busy route between very congested airports?" Silver told USA Today. He says that flight times for the same route can vary quite a bit between airlines.

For example, Virgin America flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco tend to be 30 minutes shorter than Southwest flights.

The tool will updated with new data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics every month.