FAA seeks 20% cut in JFK flights

The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON -- Delta Air Lines and other major carriers will lodge their objections today to what they call a federal proposal for "slashing operations" at delay-plagued John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The Federal Aviation Administration has recommended cutting traffic by 20 percent, setting a limit of 80 or 81 flights per hour at the congested hub where 100 takeoffs and landings an hour often occur.

"Placing artificial constraints on the country's premier international gateway is not in the best interest of Delta customers," Kent Landers, a Delta spokesman. said yesterday.

"This is a disappointing decision. Slashing operations at JFK alone will not solve the congestion problem," said James C. May, president of the Air Transport Association, which represents the leading air carriers.

"We know that there are better solutions to New York's capacity needs, and we are committed to working with FAA to put them into effect," May said in a statement.

Even though the Department of Transportation reported that 41 percent of all arrivals and 37 percent of all takeoffs at JFK were late in August, Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters expressed hope that the federal government won't have to impose schedule reductions at JFK.

"Our strong preference is to develop market-based solutions that will address delays and preserve passenger choice," Peters said. "But we will consider scheduling reductions as a last resort in order to prevent a repeat of this summer's nightmare delays."

Peters said that from 6 a.m. to 9:59 p.m. local time each day, the department's target for the number of flights per hour is 80, except for 3 p.m. to 7:59 p.m., when the target will be 81 flights.

To "efficiently space flights throughout an entire hour," the agency also wants to set a maximum of 44 total flights per half hour and 24 flights per quarter hour.

Brian Turmail, a department spokesman, said the schedule reduction meeting is only one approach that the federal government is taking to address the chronic delays at New York's three airports.

"We would rather not use a schedule reduction" imposed by the FAA, Turmail said, calling it a "blunt instrument."

An Aviation Rulemaking Committee made up of airline, travel industry and airport officials has been meeting to come up with market-based measures to reduce the congestion, he said. One widely discussed measure is "congestion pricing" that would raise the cost of flights at peak times.

Landers said JFK's most troublesome congestion takes place only from about 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. during June, July and August. He said Delta has taken voluntary steps - "de-peaking the schedule" - to reduce the congestion next summer. He said JFK was designed to accommodate 100 flights an hour and should be able to operate at that level if planes are properly managed in flight and on the ground.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has also criticized the proposal to cut flights at JFK as a "recipe for worsening the problem by pushing growing passenger demand to other airports."

"The FAA's action would simply put a 'no vacancy' sign at one of the nation's busiest airports and then walk away from the problem," said Anthony Shorris, executive director of the Port Authority. If the proposed limitation had been in effect at JFK last year, the Port Authority said, the airport would have turned away 10,000 passengers a day and operated at 1960s levels.

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