County Offers Plan to Curb Flight Delays at Fort Lauderdale Airport

The increasing number of flight delays at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport could be addressed with some fairly simple solutions, the airport director told Broward County commissioners Tuesday.

County aviation officials developed a list of fixes that they said would improve traffic management at the airport, whose growth over the past five years has pushed it onto the list of U.S. airports with the most congestion-related delays. The delays have been especially bad for private planes.

As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration has suggested that it may force the county to use the airport's northwest-to-southeast runway more frequently. But that is an unpopular solution that sends planes over more neighborhoods.

The airport's director argued that delays could be managed by shifting more small-plane traffic to the shorter, southern runway, creating more-efficient taxiways, and asking U.S. Customs to stay open later at nearby airports.

''I don't want to say this is the answer for the next five or six years, but it helps with the delays we're having now,'' said Broward Aviation Director Tom Jargiello.

County commissioners agreed with most of Jargiello's ideas, which they said would help the airport manage traffic until a new runway moves toward completion at the end of the decade. The airport and the FAA are in the middle of an environmental review that is expected to lead eventually to construction of a runway parallel to the main, northern runway, which now sees the most use.

''It's going to get worse and worse and worse, notwithstanding anything else you do,'' said County Commissioner John Rodstrom. ''We as an airport cannot keep up with this growth.''

Jargiello told commissioners he didn't think that increased use of the diagonal runway would be as efficient as some of the other ideas they had developed. Those ideas include better ground control of planes around some terminals.

One way to cut traffic by as much as 6 percent would be to persuade the federal government to keep the U.S. Customs office open longer at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, Jargiello said.

It closes at 5 p.m., which forces charter planes that fly out of the airport -- mostly to the Bahamas -- to first land at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood to clear customs. Then, they take off again and land at Executive, a few miles north.

Ten to 15 flights do the two-airport landing on weekdays, and about 20 to 30 land on weekend days, according to a report by an airport consultant. The county may consider paying the salaries of after-hours Customs inspectors, officials said.

County commissioners also said they would consider suing the FAA if the agency went forward with plans to use the diagonal runway more frequently.

Rodstrom also wanted to keep planes off the south runway, as did Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger. Both represent constituents south of the airport. Both also wanted to keep the airport from opening new gates, an idea also supported by county Mayor Kristin Jacobs but rejected by the rest of the commissioners.