N.Y. wants federal help to ease flight congestion

Soaring flight delays at New York-area airports will put the city's economy in a holding pattern and harm the environment unless the federal government acts quickly to ease congestion, a city comptroller report released yesterday said.

Airline on-time performance at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty airports has plummeted at a faster rate than other cities, and cancellation rates are among the nation's highest.

The problems could discourage new industries from coming to New York and prompt existing firms to relocate, Comptroller William Thompson said.

Passengers are already feeling the pain in their wallets, the report said.

"In 2007, passengers are spending 3.9 million extra hours a year waiting for their plane to take off after it has already left the gate" compared with waits 10 years ago, the report said. "Based on the median hourly amount, the additional time is costing travelers $187 million extra."

Thompson called on the Federal Aviation Administration to modernize the air traffic control system and boost the number of controllers to reduce delay and pollution-causing congestion.

He also offered alternatives like a congestion pricing system that would charge airlines more to fly at peak travel times.

New York's historic delays prompted President Bush to open military airspace during the Thanksgiving holiday to keep planes moving swiftly.

Bush also announced in September that the administration would address delays at New York airports, said Brian Turmail, spokesman for the federal Department of Transportation.

Thompson said the FAA could fast-track new GPS flight-tracking technology that would decrease delays.

Four regions are set to receive the GPS equipment by 2010, but New York, with the worst delays in the nation, won't see equipment on the ground until 2013.

Turmail said the department is already looking into faster implementation of GPS, among other solutions.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey needs to keep an open mind on congestion pricing, with Kennedy alone expecting a 22 percent increase in flights next year, Turmail said.

The authority and at least one airline have opposed that measure.

"It would only result in increased fees for us passengers," said Delta Airlines spokeswoman Chris Kelly.