Smaller airlines bring down on-time ratings

Your flight was more likely to be late in January than a year ago, mostly because of poorer performance at several smaller airlines.

The government said Tuesday that 81 percent of flights arrived within 14 minutes of schedule during January. That’s down from 83.7 percent in the same month last year, although it’s better than in December.

Virgin America had the best on-time rating, 93.1 percent, knocking frequent leader Hawaiian Airlines to second place.

Frontier Airlines, ExpressJet and American Eagle got the worst marks. All three scored at least 6 points worse than they did a year ago.

Among the five largest U.S. airlines, Delta had the best on-time record, followed by Southwest, US Airways, United and American. Delta and United improved from a year earlier; the others got worse. 

Boeing wins FAA approval of battery redesign plan

Federal regulators have approved a Boeing plan to redesign the 787 Dreamliner’s fire-prone lithium-ion batteries, although extensive testing will be needed before the planes can fly passengers again.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday the plan includes a redesign of the internal battery components to minimize the possibility of short-circuiting, better insulation of the battery’s eight cells and the addition of a new containment and venting system.

The FAA says the battery certification plan requires a series of tests, including flight tests, which must be passed before the 787 can return to service.

The 787 fleet worldwide has been grounded since Jan. 16, following a battery fire on a Dreamliner parked in Boston and a smoking battery that led to an emergency landing by another 787 in Japan. 

Feds bust $100 million crop insurance fraud ring

Federal investigators have unraveled a massive scheme among dozens of insurance agents, claims adjusters, brokers and farmers in eastern North Carolina to steal at least $100 million from the government-backed program that insures crops.

Authorities say the ongoing investigation is already the largest such ring uncovered in the country.

Forty-one defendants have either pleaded guilty or reached plea agreements after profiting from false insurance claims for losses of tobacco, soybeans, wheat and corn. Often, the crops weren’t damaged at all, with farmers using aliases to sell their written-off harvests for cash.

Prosecutors compared the case to busting a drug cartel, where federal investigators used a confidential informant to ensnare a key participant in the sophisticated fraud, who then agreed to implicate others. That first wave of prosecutions led to still more names to investigate.