JFK to Close a Runway for Four Months, Prepare to Cry

I highly doubt you needed another reason to avoid congested New York/JFK Airport, but here’s one for you just in case. Starting in March, JFK is shutting a runway down to be re-done. It’ll reopen (mostly) in July. I understand the need for this project, and the airlines and airport are preparing, but man, JFK Temporarily Closes a Runwayit’s gonna suck.

The runway being closed is 13R-31L. That’s the airport’s longest runway – almost 15,000 feet long – and you can see it in red at left. Why are they closing it? Well, the Port Authority finally realized that if they removed that curve in the runway, they could actually speed up traffic. Who knew? (File that one under “phun with photoshop”)

In reality, it just needs to be rebuilt. See, it was last re-done in 1993 and received some repairs in 2004. It’s beyond the expected life of an asphalt runway so they just can’t wait anymore.

This time, they’re going to do it right. They’re replacing the asphalt with longer-lasting concrete. They’re expanding it to be 200 feet wide instead of 150 feet, so it can handle the A380. They’re also going to fix up the taxiways around there to make them more efficient and to add more waiting room for airplanes (that’s not what you want to hear).

So it’s a good thing, but there’s one problem. It has to be done when airplanes want to use it. Of course, JFK never uses every runway at the same time, especially since three of them cross. But this particular runway is used very frequently, so it will mess things up.

What are the airlines doing about it? The good news is that they’ve agreed to keep flying their winter schedule until July 1 when they’ll ramp up to the busier summer flying. That should help. For example, last summer, JetBlue had 176-178 daily departures from JFK. This summer they’ll only have 162, but that won’t start until July. Until July, there will only be 153-154. Other airlines should have similar cuts.

This will also require some creative air traffic control work. They have other configurations that they use that don’t require runway 13R-31L, but the weather will determine if they can use those or not. The spring, fortunately, is a better weather time to do this than summer or winter, but it’s not perfect.

Airplanes like to take off and land into the wind. They need to be going a certain airspeed to get into the air, and when they fly into the wind, that means the groundspeed can be lower. Lower groundspeed means they need less runway. Hooray! Light tailwinds and moderate crosswinds are fine, but when they get worse than that, you have trouble.

Looking at this map, you can see that a strong Southeasterly wind would be the biggest problem here. If it gets strong enough, you would only be able to use the single 13L-31R. Uh oh. That shouldn’t happen too often, but when it does, run away screaming.

So, if you’re booking spring trips to New York, think about LaGuardia or Newark. (I never thought those would look like good options to avoid delays.) And if you’re looking at a trip connecting through JFK, think again. Avoid that place if you have a choice.

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