JFK Runway Closure Causes Headaches Nationwide

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For the next four months, the busiest runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport will be closed for repairs. The construction will likely cause an increase in delays and air fares to one of the most overloaded and delay-prone airports in the United States.For the next four months, the busiest runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport will be closed for repairs. The construction will likely cause an increase in delays and air fares to one of the most overloaded and delay-prone airports in the United States.

Construction began yesterday, when a combination of construction and high winds made the experience of traveling into the airport miserable. At one point, the airport could use just one runway, increasing inbound delays to nearly two hours.

"Figures, it happens the first day," said FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto to the New York Times yesterday.

Runway 13-31 is nearly three miles in length, one of the longest in the United States. As part of the project, the asphalt runway will be milled and rebuilt with an 18-inch thick layer of concrete, a surface that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey estimates will save $500-million in the long run. The runway will also be widened from 150 feet to 200 feet to accommodate larger planes. Additional access points will also be constructed to enable easier access between taxiways to terminal gates, enabling swifter takeoffs and landings.

To make room for the $376-million project, planes will be diverted to JFK's three smaller runways. Planes will likely need to wait in line to takeoff and land, causing a ripple effect of backups at other airports across the country.

"No good will come of this," George Hobica, creator of AirfareWatchdog.com, told Walletpop. "It will probably cause cascading delays. A plane that goes from London to New York will probably not go back to London. If it's American, it will probably go to Chicago and then Los Angeles, so other flights will be delayed too."

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Transportation, JFK is already one of the nation's worst airports for delays. Over one-fourth of flights departing from and arriving to JFK were delayed last year, ranking the airport 28 out of 31 for on-time arrival performance. The two other airports that serve the New York metropolitan area, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International, also came in at the bottom of the barrel.

Industry watchers have already seen jumps in fares on popular routes out of JFK, including fights to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. For example, flights from JFK to Los Angeles this summer have already doubled from a similar period in 2009. Airlines such as JetBlue, American, and Delta have also reduced their schedules by about 10 percent, and a higher demand for seats will cause fares to increase.

The good news is that once the work is completed, JFK airport will become a much more well-oiled machine. "These projects have a single goal: to give every one of our 48 million annual customers at JFK a more efficient, passenger-friendly airport," said Chairman Anthony R. Coscia in a press release dated February 19, 2009.

"This is economic stimulus in real time. These investments will create jobs, reduce flight delays and increase our airport's capacity to handle more planes," noted Executive Director Chris Ward.

If all goes as planned, construction will be completed June 30, just in time for the busy summer season to begin.
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