Yesterday was a beautiful day in LA with just a bit of marine layer rolling in at the beaches. A little low cloud may cause delays up in San Francisco but it rarely does down here. So it was a little surprising to see that there were delays due to thunderstorms.
It must have been the massive monsoonal moisture to our east, because there was certainly nothing going on here. That made me start thinking about how lucky we are here in LA. Yes, LAX is old and crowded, but when’s the last time you heard about someone stuck on a taxiway for several hours? It just doesn’t really happen.
This is actually one of the few areas in which I find myself feeling sorry for New Yorkers. They truly have the worst airport situation I can imagine right now. As most people know, you have three major airports over there. LaGuardia has been jam-packed for as long as I can remember. Newark has been delay-prone for years as Continental has continued to ramp up its hub.
And then there’s JFK. It used to be a sleepy backwater airport that really only had activity in the afternoon when all the European flights departed. That started to change when JetBlue started flying. Since that point, the airport’s traffic numbers have gone straight up.
American started to build up flights along with JetBlue, and most recently, Delta decided it was time to really step up their growth as well. Within the last year, the number of flights scheduled hit that critical point where the airport began to melt down. A quick look at year over year performance will prove my point.
Below are the monthly Ground Delay Programs (GDPs) issued for JFK by month for 2006 and 2007. A GDP is when aircraft on their way to an airport are held at their departure airport because the arrival airport just can’t handle the amount of traffic being thrown at it. If you’d like to read more about this, click here. Usually, a GDP is caused by weather, because bad conditions mean fewer flights may be able to land. But JFK is beyond the point where weather is the sole cause. Beautifully clear days with favorable winds still find themselves with GDPs issued because there are too many planes scheduled.
Looking at this, you can see that in June of this year, 20 out of 30 days had a GDP issued for at least part of the day. Every month saw massive increases over last year to the point where I would now consider Newark over JFK, and that says something.
The most important question now is . . . how is this allowed to happen? Nobody denies there is a problem, but people keep talking about longer term solutions. Yes, the FAA is redesigning the airspace around New York to be more efficient, but that doesn’t help TODAY. There is only one solution guaranteed to work, and that’s cutting flights.
No airline is going cut flights on its own, because it has no guarantee that others will follow. (They won’t.) The only group that has the ability to limit flights across the board is the FAA, and they need to get moving on this. They were able to get American and United to cooperate by reducing flights at O’Hare. Why hasn’t it happened at JFK?
Is it the impending airspace redesign? Fine, wait for a month until that happens and then you’ll know your true capacity. It’s not going to stop airlines from adding flights though, so there still needs to be limits determined by the FAA. Until that happens, New Yorkers and visitors to New York are going to continue to suffer.
Take a look at the short JFK-Boston route, for instance. The 7p flight on Delta is scheduled for 1:53. That’s 30 minutes longer than the 7a flight and an astounding 1:21 longer than last night’s actual flight time. That means they’re expecting to sit on the ground for probably around 1:15 every day on average. To put things in perspective, a flight at 630p from LaGuardia to Boston is blocked in at “only” 1:19, that’s :34 less than JFK. True, some of those problems are due to Delta’s horribly cramped gate situation at JFK, but even JetBlue’s 640p departure from JFK still has a 1:41 block time, and American’s 555p flight is blocked at 1:35 from their spacious, sparkling new terminal. How could you NOT take the train?
This may just be one example, but you can look yourself and see that it’s like this on every flight, especially in the later afternoon. Something needs to change, and the FAA needs to take action now.