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

  1. Brian Lusk says:

    More Phun with Photoshop, please

  2. David SFeastbay says:

    I agree if you need to connect to get somewhere, JFK and the New York area should not be that place during the runway project. No matter how the airlines cut back in service Jetblue, Delta, and American will not have a smooth operation, and the amount of flights they will still have will slow everyone down.

    The skys will be congested with planes waiting to land, it will make the whole area a very slow place to be.

  3. pennifer says:

    UGH! I already despise the int’l Delta connection through JFK, especially inbound. I have a hard time imagining it being even worse. Yet another reason to arrange my Russia trip on United this year instead of Delta, no matter how much I prefer the latter.

  4. Nice Photoshop phun!

    Although I looked at the picture before I read the article and thought that it explained a lot about my last JFK landing.

    Why aren’t they putting up a giant net suspended by helicopters to catch the planes and land them?

    But seriously, I wonder if they kicked around doing this in two 7000 feet segments, so they could keep a runway, albeit a shorter one.

  5. Bobber says:

    For arguments sake, let’s say someone offers like a concierge service to help people choose flights. Would that someone suggest booking a LGA connection to get out of NY on a Friday evening over a JFK one, baring in mind a fictitious person might only finish their last appointment in manhattan at 5pm, and would need to get a 7pm flight from either LGA or JFK. In February. For arguments sake……….

    I will sign up, promise!

  6. Riley says:

    I thought that the curve was around an indian burial mound.

  7. CF says:

    Nicholas Barnard wrote:

    But seriously, I wonder if they kicked around doing this in two 7000 feet segments, so they could keep a runway, albeit a shorter one.

    Remember, this isn’t just a runway but taxiways as well so it could have been a complete mess. I know they looked at doing it in sections where they only worked overnight, but it would have taken ages. They figured it would be best to just knock it out as quickly as possible.

    Bobber wrote:

    Would that someone suggest booking a LGA connection to get out of NY on a Friday evening over a JFK one, baring in mind a fictitious person might only finish their last appointment in manhattan at 5pm, and would need to get a 7pm flight from either LGA or JFK. In February.

    Oh man, flying out in primetime is never fun. I’d stick with LGA if you can. You’ll get there faster from manhattan and you won’t have to compete with all those widebodies. Of course, if the weather is bad, you’re screwed no matter what.

    Riley wrote:

    I thought that the curve was around an indian burial mound.

    Actually, I believe that’s where Jimmy Hoffa was buried . . .

  8. Gravy says:

    JFK should have looked at what FRA did to replace their runway a couple years ago. Frankfurt did a modern ultra-high strength long life asphalt mix, same type of mix that Boston’s using for repaving shoulders on runway 9/27. Frankfurt tore out and repaved a section at a time at night only. The airport never had to shut the runway down during busy daytime traffic. Here’s a pic of it halfway done.

    http://www.airliners.net/photo/542721/M/

  9. Bobber says:

    Cranky, you are a sage indeed!

    I bottled the LGA-IAD-LHR in favour of an EWR-LHR instead (I know, I said my last CO experience was dire, but it’s the earliest flight back and I have a wedding to go to 3 hrs after landing).

  10. BJ says:

    Gravy wrote:

    JFK should have looked at what FRA did to replace their runway a couple years ago. Frankfurt did a modern ultra-high strength long life asphalt mix, same type of mix that Boston’s using for repaving shoulders on runway 9/27. Frankfurt tore out and repaved a section at a time at night only. The airport never had to shut the runway down during busy daytime traffic. Here’s a pic of it halfway done.
    http://www.airliners.net/photo/542721/M/

    Problem is that the cost goes up quite significantly (about 15%). Over a $200M project that would add $30M! I would have thought that a combination of displaced thresholds and a full shutdown for the middle section would have done the trick. On the flip side, displaced threshold runway works and foreign operators can be a recipe for disaster.

  11. Pingback: Expect longer delays at New York JFK March to July - Musings of The Global Traveller

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