An passenger airplane approaches for a landing at LaGuardia Airport...

An passenger airplane approaches for a landing at LaGuardia Airport over the Grand Central Parkway in Queens. (Nov. 4, 2010) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

Delays at the New York City area's three major airports are nearly as bad as they were before the federal government limited the number of flights to the region two years ago to ease notorious delays and cancellations, according to a new government report.

The study, released Thursday, confirmed what travelers at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International airports know all too well: Flight delays are particularly frequent when air travel is hampered by rain, wind or snow - weather effects the Federal Aviation Administration did not take into account when it imposed the flight caps in 2008.

The study, by the U.S. Department of Transportation's office of inspector general, said the caps caused slight improvement but didn't go far enough, and recommends that the FAA take a second look at further limits on flights going into New York as a way to reduce delays.

The flight caps were imposed after record-setting delays in 2007. While they yielded little improvement, the limitations also set up a scenario that results in a glut of flights when bad weather hits the airports, the inspector general's report says.

Last year, one-third of arriving flights were delayed or canceled, the report found, and about two-thirds of flight delays at the airports can be attributed to bad weather. The U.S. Department of Transportation considers a flight delayed if it departs 15 minutes after its posted time.

In response to the report, the FAA said it is studying the issue of stricter flight caps in New York, including creation of models that could predict the impact on airline traffic of greater limitations.

Rain and wind caused flight delays Thursday at area airports including LaGuardia. That's where Eric Morvai, 42, of Barberton, Ohio, was trying to get a flight home. Morvai, an employee of CVS Pharmacy who flies around the country setting up and remodeling the stores, said his flight to Philadelphia was canceled and his flight home to Ohio was delayed.

"Instead of getting home today at 3:30 or 4, it looks like it's going to be sometime at night," said Morvai, who has two young children. "I'm going to miss dinner with the family, which is something I was looking forward to."

During bad weather, air traffic controllers must hold flights on the ground or add spacing between planes to maintain safety.

In the summer of 2007, at the peak of delays at area airports, 40 percent of incoming flights to New York were delayed or canceled. The FAA, in its attempt to address the problem, limited flights to no more than 83 arrivals and departures an hour at Kennedy, 83 an hour at Newark and 81 an hour at LaGuardia.

Those numbers are near the maximum capacity of those airports in good weather, the report found.

But during bad weather, the airports' capacity drops significantly, with Kennedy handling between 64 and 67 flights an hour, LaGuardia handling between 69 and 74 flights an hour, and Newark handling between 61 and 66 arrivals and departures an hour.

The report also found that delays in New York can "ripple" across the nation, and said the FAA needs to do more to study that effect.

Further limits on flights at New York's airports could mean trading low airfare and multiple choices of flights for higher costs and fewer flights. The airlines say that "low scheduling targets will improve performance and reduce delays," but also will mean that airports are not used to capacity and passengers' choices will be limited, the FAA stated in its response.

The FAA is in the process of redesigning the airspace around New York's airports to reduce conflicts among planes, which limits departure and arrival routes, and is awaiting the arrival of a satellite-based air-traffic control system, called NextGen, which would allow planes to fly closer together and chart more direct routes to their destination, said Arlene Salac, an FAA spokeswoman based at the regional office near Kennedy.

In a statement, James C. May, president of the Air Transport Association of America, a trade association for commercial aviation, said he's skeptical about whether New York's airports are being used to capacity. "There are better solutions than restraining capacity by imposing flight caps," May said.

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Franklin Square home invasion … Deadly DWI crash sentencing … LI's disco history Credit: Newsday

Spano sentencing in DWI crash ... Franklin Square home invasion ... Sentencing in deadly DWI crash that killed 3 ... LIRR crime rate

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