‘Key to Eliminating U.S. Flight Delays? Redesign the Sky Over New York City’

Andrew Blum in WIRED:

…More than 2 million flights pass over the city every year, most traveling to and from the metropolitan area’s three busiest airports: John F. Kennedy, Newark, and LaGuardia. And all that traffic squeezes through a network of aerial routes first laid out for the mail planes of the 1920s. Aircraft are tracked by antiquated, ground-based radar and guided by verbal instructions issued over simplex radios, technology that predates the pocket calculator. The system is extremely safe–no commercial flight has been in a midair collision over the US in 22 years–but, because the Federal Aviation Administration treats each plane as if it were a 2,000-foot-tall, 6- by 6-mile block lumbering through the troposphere, New York is running out of air.
This is a nightmare for New York travelers; delays affect about a third of the area’s flights. The problem also ripples out to create a bigger logjam: Because so many aircraft pass through New York’s airspace, three-quarters of all holdups nationwide can be traced back to that tangled swath of East Coast sky….

2 responses to “‘Key to Eliminating U.S. Flight Delays? Redesign the Sky Over New York City’

  1. There is a fundamental problem Blum overlooks: there is only so much ground space at these airports. Newark, for example, normally uses two parallel runways which are between the terminals and the New Jersey Turnpike, so planes using the outer runway must somehow cross the stream of air traffic using the inner runway. Therefore EWR has a maximum runway usage above which there will be too many go-arounds. LGA has it even worse, since their two runways, both of which are needed to accommodate the traffic, are at right angles to one another. I have not been through JFK in a long time, but I have heard anecdotally that ground delays can be a major issue there, especially during the transatlantic arrival rush (my co-workers and I try to avoid JFK for international arrivals on our Europe trips; we prefer to fly straight into Boston instead).
    Here’s a better idea: more extensive use of trains, especially for short haul travel. At minimum, the overwhelming majority of traffic to points on the Boston-Washington corridor should be by train (which already is competitive for city center to city center travel time, as LGA in particular is not convenient to public transport, and JFK and EWR are even further away from Manhattan).

  2. Court Document Filed Fighting The FAA’s Airspace Redesign Project
    On March 6, 2009, 12 petitioner’s fighting implementation of the FAA’s NY/NJ/PHL Airspace Redesign project filed a joint brief reply targeted to prevent the FAA from continuing to implement the Redesign. (Note: the document along with the other pertinent documents related to this case are posted on the “documents” page of NJCAAN’s Internet site. The document Internet links also are copied below.) The New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise (NJCAAN) believes that the FAA’s environmental impact statements (EISs) are fundamentally flawed, and that the agency did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the general conformity provisions of the Clean Air Act, and section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act.
    For example, the FAA overstated operations in its baseline assumptions at the study area airports by 17% for Kennedy Airport, 14% for Newark Airport, and 13% for Philadelphia Airport. Since it started to implement project procedures, it also has implemented demand management (volume controls) at the metro New Jersey and New York airports, which we believe fundamentally alters any operational estimates. By overstating operations in its baseline assumption, we believe that the FAA also overstated any delay benefit and understated the environmental impacts from the project. A careful read of the Court documents is a good illustration as to how we believe that the FAA attempted to conceal this fundamental flaw in its methodology, which could have substantially altered any of the agency’s conclusions from its modeling.
    On May 11, 2009, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in D.C. The session will be open to public attendance.
    Petitioner’s Joint Brief Filed March 6, 2009: http://www.njcaan.org/resources/Petitioners_Joint_Reply_Brief.pdf
    FAA Brief Response Filed January 2009: http://www.njcaan.org/resources/FAA_Brief_Response.pdf
    Petitioner’s Initial Complaint Filed August 2008: http://www.njcaan.org/resources/Brief_Challenging_Redesign.pdf