June 16, 2007

New York flights late the most

When it comes to getting people to places on time, no airports in the country have done a worse job this year than New York's.

Between January and April, 38 percent of all flights at Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia were either late or canceled, leading to disruptions nationwide. And when planes were late, they were really late.

Folks unlucky enough to be on one of the 15,480 delayed flights from Newark left the ground an average 95 minutes after their scheduled departure time, according to federal figures. The 14,752 late arrivals at LaGuardia were, on average, an hour tardy.

Those statistics come as no surprise to air travelers. Scenes of delayed passengers sleeping on terminal floors or sitting endlessly on parked planes have become weekly occurrences.

The question is, can anyone fix it?

A variety of government agencies and aviation experts will take their best shot at the problem in the coming months, including a high-level task force convened by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The group will include airline executives, state officials and other experts, and will study, among other things, ways to maximize runway use and get planes in and out more quickly.

More than easy travel to and from New York is at stake. The city's airports are a vital cog in the nation's aviation network, and bad delays here have a habit of rippling far and wide.

''This impacts the entire country,'' said JetBlue Airways Corp. Chief Executive Officer Dave Barger, a task force member. As goes Kennedy, he quipped, so goes the nation.

Experts say the panel's job won't be easy. A variety of uncontrollable factors handicap New York's airports from the get-go.

Bad weather and bad geography are two of them. Minor storms that wouldn't be a problem elsewhere often block New York flights because of where the city sits on the eastern seaboard.

And the airports have outdated runway configurations, meaning they can land fewer jets per hour than modern facilities like the ones in Atlanta and Denver.

Air congestion is at an all-time high. Nearly 1.4 million flights passed through the region's airspace last year, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

''If an airport is scheduled at maximum capacity all day, and you have delays at any time, you can never recover from it,'' said R. John Hansman, director of MIT's International Center for Air Transportation.

By David B. Caruso Of The Associated Press
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