Federal aviation officials said yesterday they are considering a reduction of flights at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport to help alleviate the nagging delays that have plagued the metropolitan area's airspace for years.
Under the plan, the number of flights at Newark Liberty International Airport - about 1,200 a day - would not change, but fewer flights at JFK should reduce delays at the two hubs as well as at La Guardia Airport, aviation officials said.
La Guardia already has a "slot" system that limits the number of flights scheduled there.
Yesterday's announcement from U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters followed a meeting with President Bush on the broader issue of easing air traffic nationwide and increasing traveler satisfaction after a dreadful summer in the skies and on the tarmac.
"Fliers today are plenty cranky and they have good reason to be," Peters said in a conference call with reporters.
FAA officials plan to meet soon with the major air carriers and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey - the bistate agency that operates the three airports - to discuss ways to reduce delays at JFK.
Officials did not offer specifics yesterday, but said they would give the airlines and Port Authority a chance to come up with alternatives to flight reductions. About 1,200 planes fly into and out of JFK each day.
In January, more flights were allowed into and out of JFK, creating a whopping 25 percent increase in air traffic there through the first seven months of the year. Aviation experts say that worsened the region's chronic delays, resulting in a frustrating summer travel season for fliers.
Bush, after his meeting with Peters, said he wants to modernize the nation's air traffic control system and improve how airlines treat their passengers. He asked Peters to work with the airlines, airport operators and others and report back by the end of the year on ways to reduce congestion.
"We understand there's a problem," Bush said. "And we're going to address the problem."
Peters and Bobby Sturgell, acting administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said a number of short- and long-term proposals are being considered nationwide to meet the goals. Among them: increasing penalty fees airlines must pay fliers who are involuntarily bumped from flights, exploring congestion pricing scenarios, adding runway space where possible and implementing new satellite-based air-traffic control technology to allow more takeoffs and landings.
Setting up satellite-based technology to more efficiently guide planes is widely advocated, but is expensive and would take years to implement.
Sturgell also said the FAA has proposed reconfiguring the New York/New Jersey airspace to accommodate more flights, in part by sending planes in different directions after they take off from Newark Liberty. That plan, however, has sparked fierce opposition from local officials and residents who worry about increased noise.
Newark Liberty, JFK and La Guardia served more than 104 million passengers last year. The three airports are among the busiest in the nation and have some of the worst delays.
Those delays tend to cause a ripple effects across large swaths of the country. One-third of the nation's air traffic flows through the metropolitan area's airspace, but problems here can affect two-thirds of the nation's airspace, aviation officials say.
In a federal report issued earlier this month, Newark Liberty posted the nation's worst on-time arrival performance, with less than 57 percent of planes landing on schedule between January and July. The performance levels at Kennedy and La Guardia weren't much better, according to the report. On-time departure rates at the three airports were also among the worst in the nation.
Port Authority officials, who have convened their own task force to help reduce delays, were cool to the idea of reducing flights at JFK.
"There's clearly a need for immediate relief from flight delays, but the solution shouldn't be an outdated approach of just limiting capacity when passenger demand continues to grow," said Marc La Vorgna, a Port Authority spokesman.
"The (Bush) administration needs to undertake a 21st-century solution, namely newer and better technology to expand capacity and partnerships with the local operators who know their airports best," La Vorgna said.
Air carriers had mixed reactions.
JetBlue, the largest carrier at JFK, said in a statement that it looked forward to participating in the process.
"We believe that part of the solution is to implement hourly caps during congested periods to protect all carriers' schedule integrity," the statement said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.