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Flight delays increase after Kennedy closes runway

With Kennedy Airport's workhorse runway closed for rehab, flight delays are taking off.

The March 1 closure of Runway 13R-31L - the airport's busiest - has resulted in 6.3 percent of all takeoffs and landings experiencing delays, compared to 1.8 percent in a similar period last year, according to Federal Aviation Administration statistics.

During the first six days of the runway's closure, the airport averaged more than 67 flight delays a day, up from an average of 19 flight delays daily during the same period in March 2009, according to FAA data obtained by Newsday. The airport averages 1,000 flight operations daily.

Because Kennedy now only has use of three of its four runways, the FAA instituted measures called "ground stop" and "ground delay" to control the number of flights headed to the airport. Under those programs, which were activated on each of the six days following the runway's closure, flights bound for Kennedy were delayed or held at their origins.

"Underpinning all this is the four-month rehabilitation of the runway," FAA regional spokesman Jim Peters said.

Last March, during the same six-day period, only one ground stop and one ground delay were instituted at Kennedy, Peters said.

The runway, which handled 143,000 takeoffs and landings last year, is to be closed through June 30 as construction crews remove 5 inches of the asphalt surface and replace it with more durable concrete. During the $376-million project, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates Kennedy, has asked airlines to revise their schedules.

Last week, during five of the first six days of the closure, air traffic controllers were able to direct flights to Kennedy's three other runways. March 1 was an exception: On that day, strong winds prevented the use of Runway 13L-31R, Kennedy's other east-west runway.

March 3 was the worst of those six days for delays, with 107 flights late on arrival or departure, about 10 percent of the airport's total flight operations that day.

By comparison, on March 2, 2009 - almost exactly a year ago to the day - the same percentage of flights at Kennedy experienced delays. On that day, 5.1 inches of snow fell at the airport.

Flights are considered late if they are more than 15 minutes past scheduled arrival time or leave 15 minutes after departure time.

Peters said delays caused by the runway closure should be kept in perspective.

"Delays were not high when compared to the total number of operations," he said.

A Port Authority spokesman, in a statement, said, "At this point in the project, the feedback from the airline partners is that the impact has been minimal."

The delays could get worse. FAA statistics from 2009 show that delays caused by weather or increased volume rose during the same months that Kennedy's runway will be closed.

Kennedy has ranked near the bottom among major national airports for on-time flights. Last month, an FAA official told The Associated Press that delays from the runway closure would average about 50 minutes during peak travel times and less than 30 minutes during busy summer travel.

In Nassau and Suffolk counties, the closed runway has sparked concern of noise from increased overflights. The FAA has been forced to reconfigure arrival routes, some of which send planes at low altitudes over towns including Garden City, Mineola, Elmont, Franklin Square and Floral Park.

The FAA had told residents of those areas that it would try to alternate arrival routes to minimize the impact of noise on residents. So far, the FAA "has lived up to their end of the agreement," said Mary-Grace Tomecki, a Floral Park village trustee who is on the Town-Village Aircraft Safety and Noise Abatement Committee.

Linda Dersch, another Floral Park resident, agreed, saying that the FAA has "been fair" with varying the approach routes.

"I'm not going to complain," Dersch said Thursday when asked about the level of plane noise last week.


Stuck in line

Flight delays at Kennedy Airport have more than tripled after the March 1 closure for repairs of Runway 13R-31L. The runway is expected to be closed until June 30.

2010

First week of March

Total operations: 6,412

Total delays: 404

Percent delayed: 6.3%

2009

First week of March

Total operations: 6,420

Total delays: 115

Percent delayed: 1.8%

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