3 Links I Love: Privatizing JFK, Heathrow Plan Cuts, Clearing the Runways of Snow

JFK - New York/JFK, Links I Love

This week’s featured link:
The time has come to privatize JFK AirportNew York Post
It’s a rare day that I find myself wanting to link to the New York Post, but just like last week, this week brings another good article from Jason Rabinowitz. Is it time to pull JFK away from the Port Authority? (Well, yeah.)

Two for the road:
Heathrow Plans Sloping Runway to Cut Costs by $3.4 BillionBloomberg
Go figure, the plan to add a runway (and more) at Heathrow is really, really expensive. So now they’re looking at ways to cut back the costs. The sloped runway is one possibility, so it cutting the length of the runway. Besides the obvious cost savings of using less concrete, it more importantly means less of a move for the busy motorway that the runway butts up against. I have no idea if this is a smart move or if it’s just being pennywise and pound foolish.

Clearing Mitchell’s runways a choreographed snow dance powered by massive diesel enginesMilwaukee Journal Sentinel
File this one under “unsung heroes” alongside the people who de-ice aircraft. Keeping those runways clear of snow is a thankless job, but it’s incredibly important. I’m glad to see the paper shining a spotlight on the locals who do it in Milwaukee.

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19 comments on “3 Links I Love: Privatizing JFK, Heathrow Plan Cuts, Clearing the Runways of Snow

  1. JFK’s terminals, aside from 2 and 7, are fairly new. Terminal 1 needs to be expanded, and terminal 7 could be expanded to where terminal 6 used to be. Terminal 2 needs to either be modernized and expanded, or ripped down. Its a dump and easily the worst terminal in operation at JFK. The Port Authority needs to give up control of NY airports, all three have their share of issues, and the PA does nothing to fix them.

    1. The biggest problem with terminals 1 and 2 are that they are shoehorned in a very cramped corner of the airport. Expanding terminal 1, and/or expanding terminal 4 to the west when terminal 2 is someday demolished, would only further entrench that.

      Ideally you’d have a master plan that completely rearranges the use of land in the central terminal area to something more efficient — perhaps an HKG or ATL layout with a massive single parking garage out front — but the fact that so many of the terminals are fairly new makes it even harder to achieve that.

  2. Having snow and de-icing equipment is the norm in northern airports, but I’m curious if there’s any laws/regulations that require them warmer parts of the country, even though they only see snow rarely?
    Standard businesses and cities are usually more economical/safer to just shut down while it’s snowing than keeping a fleet of snow removal equipment idle when it doesn’t snow, but how does it work for airports?

    1. I can confirm that we have deicing equipment in the deep south. We had to wait 30 minutes at MSY during the January 2013 ice storm while they pulled the deicing truck out of storage, and I was on flights that were deiced this year at SAT and ATL

  3. What I don’t understand about the JFK privatization proposal: why is Governor Cuomo leading the modernization and part-privatization plan at LGA if it would be up to De Blasio to privatize JFK? I guess Cuomo’s LGA efforts have been under the auspices of his control of the PANYNJ?

    Both of them have their issues, not least their complete unwillingness to cooperate with each other, but the work going on at LGA seems to be going fairly well and is moving at light speed by NYC standards. So if those impressions are in fact correct, I’m more inclined to let Cuomo do the same thing at JFK before I’d want De Blasio to rip JFK away from him and go start some other plan. Not least because while New York State and its various agencies do not have a good contracting track record, I don’t know if NYC has any experience of contracting of this sort.

    Granted there are many, many topics in NYC where it is easy to get confused by whether the state or city is in charge, but this one occurred to me while reading that article.

    1. What they did at LGA is essentially what has been the case at JFK for decades. To rebuild the CTB, the Port formed a PPP, turning control of CTB construction and management once open to the new private company. At JFK, terminals were already privately built and operated. The problems at JFK are simply amplified due to the poor layout and sheer number of entities in control.

      1. Thanks, makes sense. So the LGA CTB is doubly awful because in addition to the airport being managed by the PA, the terminal itself is too. (Now that I think about it, I see the resemblance to the PA Bus Terminal in the city.)

        I assume there may be legal issues with the city voiding an existing contract with the PA to manage JFK though, and perhaps even more so with implicitly voiding the contracts the PA has with the terminal operators at JFK. I guess you could structure it so that the new private airport operator takes over the contracts with the terminal operators, and presumably the airlines running T2, T5, T7, and T8 could be convinced this was in their best interest, but if Terminal One Group and Schiphol continue to have their own little kingdoms, that might limit both the improvement potential and the attractiveness of operating the airport for a bidder. (Maybe you persuade the partner airlines to dissolve Terminal One Group and give the privatization deal to Schiphol…)

  4. Can anybody offer an explanation of how a sloped runway would affect operations? 5 meters change over a 3200m runway doesn’t seem like it would make things that different, but I’m curious to hear an expert take. And does a 3200m runway limit operations significantly over a 3500m runway?

    1. I’m with you Jack. 5 meters is not significant and there are many examples around the US that slope more (ATL 9L/27R, LAX 7R/25L). I assume ICAO rules are similar to the FAA which limits the slope on an airport Heathrow’s size to a max 1.5% along each vertical curve for the runway length. There are additional limitations for the first and last quarter of the runway and for the how close slopes along the runway length can be to one another. As long as there isn’t a significant amount of earthwork required to make the slope work, I don’t see anything earth shattering about it. If you want to see a graphic for what I describe above, Google FAA Advisory Circular 150/5300-13A and look at Figure 3-22.

      The length will affect the destinations served and aircraft that are able to utilize the runway (I believe typically for takeoff more than landing due to fuel weight). Both existing runways are 3500m so they could prioritize long haul flights to those with short haul going to the new runway if it built to only 3200m but logistically, I would think having all three runways capable of supporting all the aircraft would be easier.

  5. With respect, the proposal to “privatize” JFK seems ill-informed.  The airlines and airline partnerships have built and controlled the terminals since JFK was rebuilt on the bones of Idyllwild Airport in the 1950s.  The International Arrivals Building was an exception, but that’s long gone. The Port Authority doesn’t own the airport – it leases the ground from The City of New York, and sublets the terminal grounds to airlines, airline partnerships, and terminal operators.  Airlines, airline alliances, and private terminal operators (frequently joint ventures of the airlines) build, maintain, and operate the terminals.  At that level, JFK is already “privatized.”  The PA operates and maintains runways, taxiways, roadways (on the airport property) and parking lots (actual parking lot operations are managed by a PA contractor).  Air Train is owned by the PA and operated by Bombardier. 

    Most commonly in a snow emergency, there is at least one operational runway at JFK.  The airport is usually closed because access roadways – primarily the Belt and Grand Central Parkways — are impassable, preventing passengers from reaching or leaving the airport.  The most recent issue appears to have been caused by the airlines prematurely restarting operations at JFK, specifically by restarting inbound flights before aircraft at JFK could embark passengers and depart.  That had not the slightest thing to do with the PA, which does not have the authority to tell airlines when to start or stop aircraft operations. Except for authority to commence pushback, rampside operations fall under the jurisdiction of the terminal operator. Pushback, taxiways and runways are controlled by the FAA.    

    Over the years, the ability of the Port Authority to coordinate JFK landside and terminal operations has been almost completely diluted, as airlines have successfully lobbied the State of New York for greater autonomy.  Airlines generally want to do what’s best for them individually, not for the airport as a whole. Giving in to their demands for independent operations and freedom from coordination makes them happy, and presumably more generous when campaign contributions are being sought.  The price we all pay is that there isn’t an effective coordination organization when collective action is required.  “Selling” an airport the Port Authority doesn’t own, or being replacing the PA with a private sector operator won’t change this problem a whit. 

    For years, conservatives have argued that airports should be “privatized”.  What they usually mean is that private companies should be contracted to operate the airports, breaking the unions, reducing the pay and benefits of the workers there, and pocketing the difference in profits.  Few of those who propose this want the liability for major accidents or the responsibility to coordinate and maintain services.  This is doubly true of northeastern airports, where snowfighting is a major responsibility.  Mr. Rabinowitz cites excessive cost as a justification for his demand.  Yet the costs of airport construction are ultimately borne by the airlines, either as a direct expense or in the landing fee structure.  No taxpayer money is or ever has been obligated, with the exception of limited federal funding for certain capital projects and FAA operations.  That seems unlikely to change with a private “owner,” or more likely operator.  One wonders whose budget he is defending.

    All that said, the Port Authority is hardly a knight in shining armor.  Slow, bullheaded, tied to obsolete practices, and horribly vulnerable to “not invented here,” the PA is but a pale reflection of what it once was.  It’s been gutted by political dissention between New York and New Jersey, and by a series of top executives who owed more to Albany and Trenton than they ever did to the people of the Port District (the Port Authority’s jurisdiction extends for 25 miles in all directions from the Statue of Liberty).

    Modernizing and revitalizing the PA, and restoring its pride and professionalism, would be a far more productive effort, at far less cost, than trying to replace it with yet another profit-hungry contractor. 

    1. outstanding, Bob.
      The problem with the PANYNJ is that they try to do way too much and do nothing well. Local government owned airports work in many cities in the US. The problem is not the structure of ownership but the government or government authority that runs the airport (JFK). The unit terminal structure wasn’t even the problem. The problem was that there was no coordination at the terminals where flights were headed to verify that there was space to park – and in many cases, there was no space. Yes, JFK needs to have overflow pad parking and busses but the airlines that sent planes to JFK when there was no space can’t blame others when they knew from the minute that they started service to JFK that they serve one terminal which can only accommodate flights for one carrier if the previous occupant of that gate has left.

      It is easy to blame everyone except the parties that are truly at fault when things fall apart.

      1. Well spoken, Tim.  I know from experience that the Operations Manager at JFK used to be something of a demigod.  In the circumstances you describe, he would have called an AOC meeting and politely asked (a) what the gate availability was, (b) how the airlines were going to coordinate flights to ensure that they didn’t dispatch an inbound without knowing where they were going to park it, and (c) what the overflow contingency was.  And he would have gotten prompt and complete answers.  I also know from experience that when it’s an emergency, buses, stairways, and temporary parking can all be found.  As an example, I vividly recall using catering trucks to deplane passengers who could not use stairs one time when we had to “invent” parking pads.  But that was back in the day when the Port Authority did many things, all of them exceptionally well, and as it turns out, all too many of them profitably. 


  6. Loved the article on the snow removal crews at MKE. Definitely a group of people you never think about or hear about, and it was a good look at what they do. Would be interested in learning more about some of the non-pilot, non-FA aviation related roles, from the guys deicing planes to those fueling them.

    Here’s the 2015-2016 version of Milwaukee’s snow removal plan. http://www5.passur.com/mke_docs/mkepdf3.pdf It’s actually a very interesting thing to skim through, and really details all the coordination, thought, and processes that go into snow removal and extreme weather at an airport the size of MKE.

  7. Offtopic, but is it me or is Airliners.net’s forums predominantly composed of Airbus fans? Not defending either Boeing or Airbus, but it there are times it seems that way, based on activity there.

    Now on-topic… a sloping runway? I’m not exactly sure how that works, the only times I’ve heard of such a thing is on short runways on small island or otherwise remote airfields (all of which were apparently dangerous)

  8. Probably long past the time for New York to build a new airport somewhere outside the city and just close JFK and Laguardia. Don’t expect it to happen but it’s what really needs to be done.

    1. The PA tried that way back in the 1970s.  The same forces that now demand privatization fomented every NIMBY in Northern New Jersey (it was proposed for the Meadowlands) and killed it.  And yes, it’s too late now, unless we want to uproot major existing construction.  Of course, if the scientists are right, and Jamaica Bay is going to rise 6 feet or so, it might be good to start surveying now.  Much of JFK is less than 6 feet above the high tide line; almost none of LaGuardia is.  Floating airports, anyone?

      1. Return of the float planes?

        If someone plunked down an airport in your backyard, would you be a NIMBY, too?

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