A Question of PrioritiesI'd like to ask an existential question, if I may:
Delays, a Dirty Secret, and a Solution.I believe that these three airports exist to serve the people and the economy of the metropolitan area. So I'd like to ask on a macro level, Who are the three airports actually serving? And on a micro level, I'd like to ask: If an opportunity to sit in a airplane at LGA, JFK, EWR is precious, limited, and in demand, who are the people sitting in those airplanes? — because from that micro answer, maybe we can work back to the macro answer.
The dirty micro secret is that not all of those passengers are trying to get into (or out of) the metropolitan area. The people who are interesting in getting into or out of the local area are called O&D (origin and destination) passengers. If the airport is overcrowded, certainly the Port Authority should emphasize O&D passengers over connections. Because the Port Authority exists to support the metro area, right?
These are 2007 numbers for the percentage of passengers at these airports who are making connections to other cities:
JFK 31% connecting, 69% O&D
EWR 30% connecting, 70% O&D
LGA 13% connecting, 87% O&D
This is significant. One-third (31%) of the passengers at gridlocked Kennedy and Newark have no desire to be there; they started off in Syracuse and want to go to Miami.
If landing and takeoff slots at JFK, EWR, and LGA are a precious commodity, why should a person from Syracuse who wants to be in Miami get to jam up the New York airports?
At the macro level: Why does the Port Authority let the airlines overcrowd New York airports to provide connecting flights to people who live elsewhere? Because it's a lucrative cash-cow for the Port Authority and the airlines, and they prioritize their money over local passenger's time and comfort.
At the risk of beating an already dead horse, let me say it this way: The Port Authority is using these airports for the good of the Port Authrority and the airlines (mostly Continental and JetBlue), to the detriment of the metropolitan population. That is corrupt and un-American. Perhaps I've been naive.
Sidebar: I like how the Chinese deal with corrupt Airport officials such as Li Peiying, former head of the Beijing Port Authority. (kudos to B.!)
The 30% SolutionIf you remove all connecting passengers from the Port Authority's airports, you reduce their passenger traffic by 31%, 30%, and 13% respectively. Instantly, the number of passengers fits within the airport's capacity. The only reason these airports are overscheduled is so the airlines can sell connecting flights to other cities — most notably, Continental's hub operation at Newark and JetBlue's hub at Kennedy.
If you want to dramatically improve the delay posture of EWR, LGA, and JFK next month, just prohibit the sale of connecting flights. Shazam! Problem Solved.
What About the Connecting People in Podunk and Springfield?Before taking action, the WWVB staff always tries to consider Kant's Categorical Imperative. Would it be all right if airports everywhere shunned connecting passengers? No. So, to be morally justified, we should also offer an accommodation to meet the needs of those people who are connecting.
Fortunately, this problem has been solved before.In 1989 the manager of the FAA Airports District Office in Orlando, Florida (Jim Sheppard) realized that the airport congestion problem was due to connecting flights at airports which were approaching their capacity with local passengers. He published a position paper that led to an article in Aviation Week magazine.
Sheppard was driven into retirement because of the politics of the situation. He is currently a senior manager at the Orlando airport, which notably has no connecting flights. The Orlando airport focuses on serving local people and the local economy, and is not interested in supporting a hub operation. There are no delays at the Orlando airport.
Sheppard argued that the key to avoiding delays in major cities was to move the connecting activity away from busy urban airports. He suggested building "connecting airports" out in the boonies, removed from metropolitan areas. He faced two problems: the airlines and airports strongly resisted his challenge to their existing dominance, and Congress was unwilling to spend the $300 million to build a major airport to evaluate the concept. His concept remains unused.
Here's Jim Sheppard's definition of the problem and proposed solution, from his website.
Economic developments in the last five years have made testing Sheppard's concept practical and inexpensive. Instead of building a new major airport to support connecting flights, there are now several existing, paid for, underutilized airports with parallel runways, modern terminals, and full instrument landing systems.
The highest capacity airports in the United States are called OEP Airports, for Operational Evolution Plan. These are the country's go-to airports. Some of these airports have been abandoned by their primary airlines and sit relatively unused. Pittsburgh and St. Louis come immediately to mind as once-busy OEP airports, sitting unutilized, that stand ready to support a connecting-flight hub.
Essentially, we can prohibit connecting flights at EWR, LGA, and JFK, and offer government subsidies to help airlines pay their costs for establishing hub operations at Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and other under-utilized airports. I estimate that $15 million over 5 years should be sufficient.
There is no way you could spend $15M over five years in the New York area and reduce delays. Paradoxically, you have to spend it somewhere else. The subsidy is not logically essential, but it's probably a requirement to make this politically palatable.
I think Adam Smith would agree that if we constrain connections in EWR-JFK-LGA, and subsidize connections elsewhere, the invisible hand of the marketplace will help the airlines see the wisdom of the change.
- Delays are not caused by the ATC system.
- NextGen will not resolve delays.
- Runway capacity is the constraint.
- Airlines and airports oversell flights, gates, runways, and cities.
- The system is designed to cause delays, because the profits accrue to the airlines and the airports, and the costs are carried by the passengers and public.
- Delays are not an aberration; they're the result of a cynical business model.
General SolutionThese steps will eliminate most delays across the country:
- Airline schedules must fit within (departure and destination) airport capacity.
- Airport capacity is set as a federal standard.
- The Port Authority allocates their slots at their airport, within the Fed standard. Revenues go to the Port Authority.
- $5000 penalty for scheduling over capacity for both airport and airline, per plane per day.
New York Moving connecting passengers away from EWR-JFK-LGA to PIT or STL, by prohibiting connections at the New York airports and subsidizing the airline's opening a connection operation at the new location, will reduce passenger loads so that they easily fit within airport capacity.
I'm done. Thank you very much for reading. I'm sorry to be so long-winded.