New York City’s Airports Are A Disaster We Can’t Ignore

New York City’s airports have infrastructure that was once considered opulent, but is now dated.

Ian Mitchell | November 16, 2018 | |
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This year’s winter storm has brought more evidence to a talking point both candidate Sanders and President Trump pointed out on the campaign trail – America’s infrastructure is in an unacceptable state of decay.

New York’s airports – JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark – are particularly dysfunctional. How dysfunctional? Even before this winter storm, NYC-area airports accounted for half of all delays in the U.S.

So what’s the solution?

Some might just say “money”- but that’s ignoring the basis of the problems.

The problems JFK, LaGuardia and Newark suffer aren’t the same problems as Juba International in South Sudan.

JFK, LaGuardia and Newark actually are suffering from the hangover of previous opulence.

JFK’s terminal disarray is a result of an era where pre-deregulation airlines competed not on price (which were kept high by regulations) but on luxurious ancillary services.

Pan Am and its peers built new terminals like Worldport, which were architectural marvels, but today’s passenger needs present issues they were not designed to handle. As it stands, JFK has 6 terminals labeled 1-8, down from 10 at one time, and JFK’s future involves fewer, more functional, terminals.

Newark was America’s first commercial airport. It was soon eclipsed by the two airports in Queens serving the NYC Area. This has led to many end-of-life issues with facilities, while other public investments (e.g. I-95 through Elizabeth, Newark Port) have served to impede its function, rather than improve it. Newark’s physical footprint is small, and the airport must necessarily use its space more efficiently in the future.

LaGuardia, the no-longer-weatherproof airport named for the NYC mayor who commissioned its construction out of spite, is not worth the congestion it creates in the world’s busiest airspace.

No, the solution is not merely financial, though some investment will be necessary. The solution is largely organizational: a rationalization of the purpose of the New York City’s airports in purpose, function, and scope of duties, followed by targeted investments to prepare them to handle those duties competently.

Rather than attempting to determine the perfect system from scratch, it’s instead worthwhile to mimic the world’s most successful system of airports: London’s six international airports.

London’s system handles over 150 million passengers per year, while NYC’s is straining to handle under 130 million.

London’s airport system consists of the following six airports:

Heathrow

Gatwick

Stansted

Luton

City

Southend

Croydon†

New York’s rationalized airport system would consist of the following six airports:

JFK

Newark

Long Island

Stewart

Teterboro

Trenton

LaGuardia†

†decommissioned

While LaGuardia may be worth keeping during a transitional period (more on that in a later post), the airport’s capacity is lower than the cost of the congestion it creates in the NYC airspace. [ http://freakonomics.com/2009/05/14/want-to-fix-new-york-air-congestion-shut-down-laguardia/ ]

“What occurred this weekend is completely & totally unacceptable. The Port Authority is totally committed to investigate & review, from the start of the storm through the frigid weather, through the inability of int’l flights to be taken timely into gates…through to today.” -Rick Cotton, Port Authority Executive director, on the winter storm

As more passengers burden the airports of the largest metropolitan area outside of Asia, a rationalized system of airports must be able to handle the load without devolving into “totally unacceptable” conditions for passengers flying to, through, and from New York City today.

We can do better.

[This article was originally published on Mitchell’s LinkedIn page.]

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