51Air Traffic Congestion in the New York–New Jersey Metropolitan Region

 

Statement of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

by

William R. DeCota

Director of Aviation

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

One World Trade Center, Suite 65 West

New York, NY  10048

 

Before the

Subcommittee on Aviation

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

U.S. House of Representatives

 

Monday, July 16, 2001

 

 

Chairman Mica and other distinguished Members of the Subcommittee, good morning and welcome.  I am William DeCota, Director of Aviation for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  On behalf of the Port Authority, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to testify today and to share with you our thoughts and concerns on the New York/New Jersey metropolitan region airport system and the problem of air traffic and airport congestion.

 

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates a four-airport system comprised of LaGuardia (LGA), John F. Kennedy (JFK) International, Newark (EWR) International, and Teterboro (TEB) airports.  In fact, there are five facilities in the Port Authority’s regional aviation system, the fifth being the Downtown Manhattan Heliport (DMH).  They produce annually over $4038 billion in economic activity and directly and indirectly support almost 400,000 jobs in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan region.  As directed by our bi-state legislation, wWe manage the facilities as a system and thus are able to coordinatecoordinate  operations to suit the physical assets and limitations ofat each airport to meet, the region’s requirements of itsand the very demanding passenger and cargo markets.  LaGuardia, just seven miles from Midtown Manhattan, is the close-in airport intended for the needs of the business community offering frequent, short-haul service.  Kennedy, the world-renowned international gateway to America, our modern day Ellis Island, is designed to meet the needs of the long-haul traveler but also has the ability to accommodate additional domestic flights.  Newark combines frequent service to business centers with a growing international component.  Finally, Teterboro is the key reliever airport for the immediate region serving the needs of corporate and general aviation.   These airports are intensively used with over 9092 million passengers, 3 million tons of cargo and over 1.44 million aircraft movements in 19992000. with major increases in all categories in 2000.  Yet they comprise only 8,500 acres.  To provide some perspective, all four of our airports can fit into half the space occupied by Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport – twice.

 

The New York/New Jersey region is the nation’s largest population center with the nation’s busiest and most complex air space.  Ours is the second busiest airport system in the worldnation, operating in a very confined space.  NYTRACON, the FAA’s regional air traffic control center, handles 7000 flights per day in the regional airspace.  Newark, Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Teterboro are all within the same air space.  Traffic patterns at one airport often result in usage restrictions at another, particularly during bad weather.  Nearly 75 percent of our delays occur in reduced ceiling/low visibility conditions.  We hope that, with the crucial support of Congress, the Federal Aviation Administration will make great progress with the redesign of the nation’s air space.  We are pleased that the FAA chose to begin its National Air Space Redesign effort in the New York/New Jersey region and welcome the committee’s support for this key capacity enhancement and customer service initiative.  By untangling the complex arrival and departure streams, we expect the system to become more efficient and that fewer communities will feel the noise impacts of our airports.

 

The pervasiveness of flight delays and flight cancellations throughout the country, that are not unique to our region, has changed what was formally an exciting experience into an endurance contest for the traveling public.  Deregulation of the airline industry, our country’s historically healthy economyand appetite for business, and the public’s desire to travel has fostered a steady increase in air travel demand.  FAA forecasts that increased demandgrowth will continue for the foreseeable future.  And with that forecast in mind, let’s take a quick look at the three major airports. 

 

Newark has  experienced its fourth consecutive year of record passenger growth withand a total of 34.2 million passengers in 2000 and 450 thousand plane movements.  Newark experienced 6554 percent growth in passengers during the past decade.  Assuming a moderate growth scenario of 2.63 percent per year, EWR will reach 44.342.6 million passengers in the year 2010.  The airport is land locked on 2,00027 acres of land as compared to JFK’s 4,9030 acres.  Airside and airspace constraints are the greatest obstacle to increasing the number of passengers that EWR can accommodate, the number of airlines that can operate at the airport, and the quality of services provided.  We recently extended our two longest runways in order to increase aeronautical capacity enabling the largest fully loaded aircraft to reach the farthest destinations____.   However, the airport operates within one of the world’s most densely populated areas and highly developed geographic areas with virtually no opportunities for adding significant runway capacity.

 

John F. Kennedy International Airport is our largest airport.  Geographically it covers 4,930 acres including 880 acres in the Central Terminal Area.  In the past decade, Kennedy has experienced a growth of 25 percent in passenger traffic for a total of 32.3 million passengers and 345 thousand in airplane movements in 2000.  By the year 2010, Kennedy will reach 45.2 million passengers, assuming an annual growth rate of 3.5 percent.  Kennedy offers at least a partial potential solution to the LaGuardia congestion problem because the airport currently has the capacity to handle more operations.  However, because of its location, ground access to the airport is difficult.  In an effort to improve access, the Port Authority has dedicated resources to the redevelopment of the airport by making a tremendous capital investment of $1.9 billion on improved access.  By building the AirTrain system, the airport will have a direct rail access link to Manhattan and to the regional rail transit system.  The Port Authority, airlines and other airport tenants continue to advance major new construction and redevelopment projects at the airport.  Our goal is to provide an airport infrastructure system that is capable of supporting the current and future air transportation activity of the region.  The various elements of the airport system all serve to improve passenger service and secure Kennedy’s position as the nation’s premier international gateway.

….. [WE NEED A COMPARABLE PARAGRAPH ON JFK, ESPECIALLY SINCE WE SUGGEST IT HAS SOME CAPACITY TO SPARE]

 

LaGuardia is the third major airport in the region and a vital component of this regional system.  In the past ten years, LaGuardia has experienced an 11 percent growth in passenger traffic for a total of 25 million passengers.  At a moderate growth rate of 1.5 percent, we expect LaGuardia to reach close to 30 million passengers by the end of the decade.  But aAs the smallest of the majors, it operates in a uniquely constrained environment.  Flushing Bay, a major arterial highway and dense residential neighborhoods surround it.  The airport’s two 7,000-foot perpendicular intersecting runways require that arriving and departing flights be carefully choreographed.  At only 680 acres, all of LaGuardia Airport can comfortably fit within the central terminal area of JFK.  As a reflection of these constraints, it has been necessary for both the Federal government and the Port Authority to implement a series of measures to help manage demand.  Geographic flight restrictions have been in place at LaGuardia since the 1950s that effectivelylimit manage demand and encourage airlines to utilize JFK and Newark where there is  greater capacity.  The Port Authority implemented a perimeter rule in 1984 that limits flights to cities 1,500 miles from LaGuardia.  In 196898 we implemented a peak hour surcharge on general aviation aircraft to encourage much of this activity to use regional reliever airports.  Also in 1968, the FAA implemented the High Density Rule to help manage unacceptable levels of delay and congestion.  Yet for all of that we have until now hadWe believe that we have had  remarkable success in doing more with less.  The series of measures that were implemented have helped improve efficiency while permitting LaGuardia to handle over 25 million passengers in 2000 versus 17 million in 1980.  Unfortunately, Mr. Chairman, we can only do so much with 680 acres.

 

 

 

 

The Port Authority expects moderate growth in passengers using LaGuardia over the next ten years.  However, our plans are predicated on an increase in average aircraft size and load factor, not on an increase in aircraft movements.  Despite its small size, last year in 2000 airlines scheduled as many flights at LaGuardia -- (need number flights 2000)  384,554 -- as at JFK.  That is an average of only _____70 seats per plane.  It is arguable that with 25 million passengers a year, LaGuardia is the busiest small airport in the world.  For example, LaGuardia is 200 acres smaller than Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport but has double the passenger throughput of its Virginia cousin, itself a congested airport.

 

While we are limited as to building capacity through runway construction, we have

made significant infrastructure investments at LaGuardia in terminals, roadways and runway strengthening projects to handle larger aircraft.  The FAA is also close to starting construction on a new ATC control tower.  For the coming years we have planned several projects designed to improve customer service and accommodate the larger, quieter aircraft that are the key to making productive use of the LaGuardiascarce resource.

 

The Wendell H. Ford Investment and Reform Act of the 21st Century is landmark aviation legislation.  Its contribution to the national aviation system and airports, in particular, is enormous.  As it happened, the demand for service at LaGuardia in the months that followed enactment was also great.  Airlines requested more than 700600 new flights, a 50 percent increase over the normal 22001100 movements per day, and hadve already started operating more than 300 of these flights with more scheduled to startthis month and in January had the lottery not taken effect.  Of the more than 6700 requests for new service, over 530 of these flights were by a small number of major carriers and only 70 were from new entrants and limited incumbents.  Some cities have received an explosion of new service with Richmond, Virginia, for example, now attracting 16 daily departures from four different carriers.  The regional jet does not require the same load factors as large aircraft to be profitable.  We also saw a significant increase in turboprop operations  As a consequence Mr. Chairman, 25 percent of our flights are carrying only 5 percent of our passengers.

 

Last year LaGuardia was facing a potential crisis.  Faced with a rapidly worsening situation, the Port Authority prudently  tookprudently took a series of steps to prevent gridlock.  Initially, we requested that airlines forewarn us about the number of new flights that they planned to add so that we could better react to the evolving situation.  Subsequently, as airlines added flights beyond the airport’s capacity, we requested that they voluntarily reschedule some of their flights out of the most congested hours and move their other operations to JFK where capacity is available.  Unfortunately, our requests were largely ignored.

 

IOLA: LET’S BE SURE ABOUT THE VERB TENSE IN THIS PARAGRAPH:  Mr. Chairman, congestion at LaGuardia is far more than just an inconvenience to travelers in the New York area.  Last year, iIt became an unacceptable bottleneck in the nation’s air traffic system, accounting in September for a quarter of all flight delays nationally in September of last year.  In representsand 43 percent of the national total of volume of delays.  Because of such delays, several airlines including many new entrants loudly complained that LaGuardia was wreaking havoc on their schedules.  STILL? Several airlines including many new entrants have loudly complained that LaGuardia is wreaking havoc on their schedules.  Passengers findfound that their flights to LaGuardia held on the ground in city after city for hours before takeoff.  The smaller carriers suffered disproportionately because their small-fleet size meants they arewere less able to recover from LaGuardia-related delays and its effects spread more widely throughout their route networks.  It is important to note, however, that since the moratorium and subsequent slot lottery, 26,000 fewer flights have flown into LaGuardia.

 

While LaGuardia is a particularly capacity challenged airport, it does portend system and nation-wide problems.  The problem is quantified in the FAA’s recently released capacity benchmarks for 31 major airports, which determined the number of flights each airport can handle, by hour, during good weather and bad.  The sobering point is that any increases in capacity predicted at the most delayed airports in the country over the next ten years will be outstripped by growth in flight operations.  There is also the problem of poor service that has resulted at least in part from the first two problems – congestion and delays and inadequate air transportation infrastructure.

 

As you know, the problem of congestion has many contributing factors.  The airlines point to the air traffic control system and the shortage of airport runway capacity.  The airports point to the need for airspace redesign, new technologies, and to airline scheduling practices.  The FAA and DOT point to airline practices like flight bunching in which 50 percent of all arrivals and departures are scheduled to arrive or depart in two minutes exactly on the hour or the half-hour.  The customer points to all of the above and just wants it fixed.

 

To your credit, your subcommittee and this Congress are giving attention to the problem. There are a variety of ways to attack the problem.  One is for the airlines to adjust traditional practices in the area of scheduling and operations to minimize the impact of delays and cancellations.  However, I am not sure how well that will work over the long term.   The FAA’s capacity benchmarksbenchmark report is an essential aspect of regional and national strategies.   The best and obvious solution  issolution is capacity expansion as this subcommittee has encouraged.   .  In an effort to address the need for growth in airport capacity, the major airport associations have proposed the Expedited Airport System Enhancement (EASE) Initiative.  The EASE proposal calls for designation of “Critical National Airport Capacity Projects.”  While not changing the environmental review process or any other laws, these projects would be subject to expedited or streamlining procedures such as concurrent environmental reviews and priority processing by governmental agencies.  The Port Authority supports EASE and intends to actively promote this initiative.  [INSERT SENTENCES ON “EASE”] Airport operators, airlines, the government and the national air traffic controllers associations all agree that it would be ideal to build airport capacity where it is needed.  However, as you have seen here, some highly congested airports do not have the land or open waters on which  towhich to build new runways.  LaGuardia, for example, started as a seaplane airport for flying boats.  With less than 700 acres of land area,area and two 7,000-foot intersecting runways, a return to flying boats would be the only way to expand landing capacity.  But there are places where runways can be built where it makes sense and some of those might even be over water.  And Congress very wisely increased funding in AIR-21 for airport construction.

 

Returning to our region and the challenge we have at LaGuardia,  the, the Port Authority has formulated some ideas as to how the demand for access to the airport can best be managed.  Last year FAA, DOT and the Port Authority worked closely together on steps to stem the problem resulting in a determination as to the maximum number of permissible operations at LaGuardia and the employment of a lottery to allocate these operations as an interim solution.  Like Secretary Mineta, we hesitate to place government controls on airline operations to handle congestion, believing the carriers and the marketplace are in the best position to make such decisions.  We very much support the bipartisan discussions underway in Congress to see whether a consensus among the carriers can be developed to help relieve congestion.  We also applaud steps that individual carriers have taken--American at Dallas Fort Worth, Delta at Atlanta, and Continental at Newark—to reschedule flights from peak periods to reduce delays.  But we also acknowledge that, in all three of these cases, a dominant carrier at a hub took action, and it is more difficult to accomplish such actions in a highly competitive environment such as exists at LaGuardia.  Nevertheless, we support the legislation you have endorsed, to permit, on a limited basis, industry discussion of scheduling.

 

Should such an approach not fully resolve the problem, or if the airlines are unable to voluntarily reduce congestion, other approaches will be necessary at LaGuardia.  To that end, on June 712, the FAA began to seek public comment from all concerned parties on a variety of ideas that have been identified to address the LaGuardia situation.  Two alternative forms of demand management have been put forward for consideration: administrative tools like mandating the use of larger aircraft and promoting the efficient use of slots, and economic tools such as congestion pricing or an auction of permitted aircraft movements.  In developing our ideas, we have attempted to satisfy a number of policy objectives, which we believe have to be part of any long-term solution to LaGuardia congestion.

 

·        For one, the solution must reduce aircraft operations at LaGuardia to improve schedule reliability and reduce delays.

·        Two, it must encourage efficient use of scarce resources at LaGuardia, i.e. increasing the the size of aircraft operating there so that we can continue to grow the airport’s passenger base, which is critical to serving our region’s need for trade, travel, tourism and commerce.

·        Three, we want to make sure that access is preserved for new entrant airlines and underserved communities, a principle of AIR-21.

·        Four, we want to make sure that there is reasonable stability in air service provided at the airport.

·        [WE NEED TO SAY THIS DIFFERENTLY]  And five, we may be able to establish a source of funding to facilitate development of additional airport capacity in the New York region and technological improvements to maximize airspace.

 

Capacity constraints faced by older airports, and a steady increase in demand for air service means that demand can potentially exceed the scarce resources at our airports and many others throughout the country.  While the aviation industry is working to increase the capacity of the nation’s American aeronautical and airport system and deal with the challenge of routing thousands of aircraft safely through our skies each day, the Port Authority has also increased LaGuardia’s physical capacity to the maximum extent possible.  However, LaGuardia’s history demonstrates that a series of intervening measures have been required to manage demand and improve efficiency as well.  It is critical to the region and nation’s long term prosperity that this issue of transportation congestion, in particular the aviation system, be attacked vigorously.  It is highly desirable for the airlines, airports, passengers, local communities, members of Congress, and other stakeholders to work together on solutions. Mr. Chairman, thank you for your Committee’s attention to this problemably and for the opportunity to give our perspective on this issue.  I am pleased to take questions from you and the other members of the subcommittee.