Port Authority Announces Additional Operational Improvements at JFK During Winter Storms

April 30, 2018

On April 30, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that JFK Airport has adopted further improvements in Airport procedures during winter storms. The measures supplement and/or replace the ten interim steps previously announced to address the difficulties the Airport experienced during and after Winter Storm Grayson in early January.

“We are committed to strengthening JFK airport’s operating procedures during winter storms so that the breakdowns experienced last January never happen again,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said. “In our continued and ongoing effort to ensure the airport handles winter storms far more effectively, these new measures build on those we announced in late January. And we look forward to taking additional steps following the recommendations from the independent report to be issued by former Secretary Ray LaHood, which we expect next month.”

“We significantly improved storm operating procedures within the JFK community in late January,” Port Authority Aviation Director Huntley Lawrence said. “The measures announced today represent another critical step to enhance performance at JFK in future winter storms. As we said at the time and continue to emphasize, what happened in January cannot and will not happen again. We are grateful for the continued input from all of our airport community partners to ensure we make good on this promise.”

The new and revised measures, memorialized in an Airport General Manager’s bulletin, reflect the input of working groups comprised of airport stakeholders – including representatives of airlines, terminal operators and ground handlers – that were convened on a frequent basis over the past several months.

The new measures implemented today include the following:

  • Inbound Flights: A new planning procedure for airlines coordinated with the FAA and with IATA by which JFK will establish, in advance of a predicted storm, a specified "storm window." The Airport’s General Manager may recommend to airlines that flights due to arrive at JFK during the specified window be cancelled. Once any cancellation recommendations are made, prior permission will be required to launch any flight with an arrival time during the specified window. In order to receive such permission, airlines are required to receive explicit confirmation from their terminal operator that a gate will be available for any such flight arriving during the specified storm window and that the arrival of the flight will not have a negative impact on the safe and efficient functioning of the terminal. A similar procedure was put in place last January for all "recovery" flights (e.g. flights that were previously diverted or replacement flights for cancelled flights). Today's action adds the prior permission requirement for all flights scheduled to arrive during the "storm window." These new procedures, including the Airport’s proactive recommendation of cancellations, were initially piloted during Winter Storm Skylar on March 13 with positive results.
  • JFK Emergency Operating Center (EOC): Strengthened requirements for participation by airlines, terminal operators, and ground handling organizations in the airport's Emergency Operations Center that was established in January and now operates on a 24/7 basis throughout any winter storm.
  • Mutual Aid: Expanded requirements for mutual aid during a storm whereby airlines, terminal operators, and ground-handling organizations are mandated to share equipment, staff and gates to meet emergency situations during a winter storm. JFK airport has created an airport-wide inventory of equipment owned by all airport stakeholders (to be updated every year in the Fall) to be used in identifying needed equipment. The Airport itself will also acquire a specific set of spare equipment that can also be deployed as necessary during a winter storm to airlines, terminal operators, or ground-handling organizations if needed.
  • Baggage Service: New obligations requiring every airline serving JFK to have in place a baggage service office that meets international best practice standards. This includes an obligation on JFK's terminal operators to provide a "common use" baggage service office serving multiple airlines if any individual airlines in their terminals do not have the capacity to establish baggage service offices that meet the mandated requirements.
  • Critical Equipment & Staffing: Terminal operators and ground-handling organizations will be required to certify to the Airport General Manager, as part of the opening check list of the EOC prior to each Storm, that (1) all relevant equipment (both snow removal and normal operating equipment) has been fully fueled and checked for storm readiness, and (2) each entity has put in place a staffing plan adequate to meet full operations during the predicted storm.
  • Employee Transportation: Based on a survey (undertaken with terminal operators, airlines and ground-handling organizations) of all airport employees to determine their travel patterns to get to JFK, the Airport will be providing heavy duty buses prior to and during a storm from key gathering points for employees to assure their ability to get to the airport during a storm, whenever a snow emergency diminishes the effective functioning of normal everyday transit options. In addition, the Airport will survey the inventory of hotel rooms within a reasonable distance from the airport to devise a coordinated plan to provide access to hotel rooms for essential employees for employers that wish to provide such accommodations.
  • Snow Removal: Prior to the 2018-2019 winter storm season, the Airport will acquire additional high-speed snow removal equipment to improve its performance in future storms as well as impose additional and rigorous training requirements for operators of snow removal equipment. It will also increase more efficient sharing of resources between JFK and other Port Authority airports as needed. 

The interim measures previously announced on Jan. 18 are summarized below:

  • JFK Emergency Operations Center (EOC): Prior to the start of any significant storm, JFK Airport now activates its EOC on the airport grounds. The EOC operates on a 24/7 basis for the duration of any storm and all recovery operations, mandating participation from all relevant airport stakeholders (including the Airport General Manager and designated staff, the six terminal operators, airlines, ground handling operators, the Port Authority Police Department, and public information officers).
  • Mutual Aid: All JFK terminal operators, airlines and other key members of the airport community committed to an initial mutual aid framework that enables the expeditious provision of assistance from one entity to another during emergencies. This includes but is not be limited to access to gates, staff, equipment and use of other facilities. All requests for mutual aid will be facilitated through the EOC.
  • Communications to Passengers: The EOC coordinates customer communications efforts to assure that terminal operators, their airline customers, as well as the Port Authority’s JFK staff are providing accurate, frequent and consistent communications to passengers and the general public. Coordinated communications will include but not be limited to social media, terminal screens, terminal public address systems, and airline/terminal operator customer service personnel.
  • Recovery Flights: During storm emergencies, the EOC issues on an as-needed basis formal notifications to terminal operators to manage the rate of incoming flight activity with their airline customers. During the recovery time period following significant weather events, terminal operators communicate to their airline customers that all “recovery flights” (previously unscheduled flights as a result of cancellations or diversions) require prior permission from the terminal operator prior to takeoff in order for the terminal operator to confirm gate availability. In the absence of this prior permission, the terminal operator instructs the airline not to launch the flight. With today’s announcement, this policy is being expanded to all inbound flights with scheduled arrival times during specified storm windows.
  • Gate Assignment and Wait Times: During storm emergencies, the EOC coordinates with terminal operators to ensure that all inbound flights are assigned a gate based on the plane’s estimated on-block time no later than one hour prior to the plane’s scheduled landing. In any instance where the estimated on-block time is more than 90 minutes after estimated arrival time, terminal operators must consult the Port Authority to identify alternative compatible gate options elsewhere in the airport on a timely basis. If no compatible gates are available, the Port Authority and terminal operator will promptly determine if disembarking passengers at an un-gated position and busing them to a terminal is a more suitable option.
  • Gate Availability: For situations in which an inactive aircraft is occupying a gate that needs to be made available for incoming flights, the terminal operator shall direct the airline to relocate the aircraft. If the airline does not move its aircraft within 45 minutes, the Port Authority will empower terminal operators to compel that the aircraft be rapidly moved on an emergency basis if it is necessary to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the airport.
  • Baggage Repatriation, Ground Equipment & Staffing: The Port Authority directed airlines, terminal operators, ground handlers and baggage delivery companies to develop and implement both near-term improvements and longer-term standards to ensure 1) more rapid and effective repatriation of baggage separated from passengers as the result of cancelled or diverted flights during storm emergencies; 2) ground handling equipment is well-maintained to operate during cold weather conditions, 3) sufficient spare equipment is available to replace equipment that fails to operate due to weather conditions; and 4) sufficient staffing is in place to meet anticipated demand during severe weather events. The new measures announced today and outlined above stem from discussions on these topics that occurred over the past three months.