US to restrict flights at NY area airports to ease travel delays

Associated Press

HERNDON, Va. (AP) ” Fewer flights will go in and out of New York City airports at the busiest times to try to ease chronic nationwide air travel delays, the government said Wednesday.

To help holiday travelers, military airspace will be opened to commercial traffic on the East and West Coasts, the government said.

Transportation Secretary Mary Peters made the announcement after months of closed-door wrangling with the airlines over how to curb air traffic around New York City’s three major airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport, and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey.

Delays often begin in the congested New York area then spread across the nation.

“I had hoped to be able to avoid caps but the truth is for the short term, for the next few years this is the solution that will provide some relief for travelers,” Peters said.

Under new rules that take effect in March, JFK will only be allowed 82 or 83 flights per hour at peak times, down significantly from the 90 to 100 that had been scheduled this past summer. Similar caps will go into effect at Newark, but the exact number has yet to be determined. LaGuardia already has limits on flights.

The government’s move means airlines will have to slash the number of flights they schedule at JFK during peak hours. Those most likely to be affected by the changes are business travelers, who prefer to fly in the morning or at the end of the day.

The region’s three major airports have the worst on-time arrival record of all major U.S. airports through October. Aviation officials say delays in New York have a cascade effect throughout the system causing three-quarters of all flight delays in the nation.

Overall, the industry’s on-time performance through October was the second worst on record since collection of comparable data began in 1995. Nearly one in four flights arrived late in the first 10 months of the year.

“The American public, the passengers, the customers and consumers want and deserve a much more dependable, much more reliable system, and this is what this plan will do,” Peters said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which met with airline officials throughout the fall seeking ways to solve delays at New York’s three major airports, plans to create a “czar” for air travel in the region.

Peters also confirmed the government would be opening military airspace to commercial flights in order to accommodate the holiday season crush. A similar temporary measure was done during Thanksgiving week on the East Coast. A section of West Coast airspace will be added this time to try to smooth travel in and out of southern California, Peters said.

JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin said the airline, the largest operator of flights at JFK, is confident it can shuffle its schedule to meet the cap without trimming service. “We won’t have to eliminate any routes,” he said.

Baldwin said the airline was “grateful” that the Department of Transportation had decided against proposals that might have stripped all carriers of their current slots and forced them to repurchase them through an auction.

Executives at JetBlue Airways Corp. broke with other airlines earlier this year by calling for a temporary cap on flights at Kennedy, saying the airport had become too congested to operate reliably.

The government described the New York airport caps as a short-term approach lasting two years, at which point officials said they hope new technology and modernized systems will allow for greater capacity in the region.

After that two-year period, Peters said the government would like to auction additional flight slots at JFK to the highest bidder.

In two years, however, the decision will be made by someone else, since the Bush administration will have ended.


Associated Press writer David B. Caruso in New York contributed to this report.

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