As the Port Authority finalizes plans to redevelop LaGuardia Airport’s main terminal, the agency is also mulling the removal of a decades-old rule that limits flights to and from the airport to within a 1,500-mile perimeter.
The board is expected to vote later this month to move forward on replacing LaGuardia’s Terminal B with a new central terminal, a $4 billion public-private partnership to modernize the hub.
The Port Authority’s outgoing executive director, Patrick Foye, said last month that they are also studying lifting the so-called perimeter rule, which has been in place at the airport since 1984 and keeps flights within 1,500 miles, with exceptions for Saturday flights and flights to Denver.
“It’s a possibility, a study is being done,” Foye said. “It’s not on any upcoming board agenda, the board has not considered it, no decision has been made with respect to . . . when that would be considered by the board. The one thing we’ve assured the public is that we will do a public comment period which will be extensive.”
But, Foye added, “There’s no timeline for that, and whether that proceeds or not remains unclear.”
Renewed consideration for lifting the perimeter rule is likely a result of the renovation, aviation consultant and former airline executive Robert Mann said.
Removing the rule would boost revenue because transcontinental flights are bigger and heavier, and airport landing fees are assessed by weight.
More passengers also would mean more passenger facility charges — a $4.50 charge added to every plane ticket — for LaGuardia. It also would benefit airlines such as Delta, the main carrier at LaGuardia, since popular transcontinental flights carry more passengers and are more profitable than operating less in-demand regional routes on smaller planes within 1,500 miles.
“If . . . Delta could operate a 767 from LaGuardia to LA, I’m sure they’d much prefer to do that than to fly a 76-seat jet to Vermont,” Mann said.
Mann pointed out that airlines are trending away from regional jets with fewer seats to bigger planes that can pack more passengers, making flights more profitable for them and the Port Authority, in this case.
“If an airline decided to drop a regional route for the sake of a transcontinental route it’s probably because that regional route wasn’t making money to begin with,” said Phil Derner, aviation analyst and founder of NYCAviation.com. “If more passengers want to fly transcontinental, then passengers are going to be better served by that.”
Removing the perimeter rule could further cut service to small communities that are already seeing fewer flight options, since LaGuardia’s peak hour flights are capped and airlines have a set number of flight slots, said Bill Swelbar, executive vice president of aviation consulting group InterVISTAS and a researcher at MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation.
“Obviously there would probably be some increase in enplanements because valuable slots will be used by bigger airplanes,” Swelbar said of passengers boarding planes. “More than likely it’ll be small communities served from LaGuardia that will lose their service and those slots will be used to do flying beyond the existing perimeter. There is a fallout from this, and the question is how important is small community air service to New York?”
Delta Air Lines, which has the largest share of slots at both LaGuardia and Kennedy, has enthusiastically supported dropping the rule, and senior vice president Gail Grimmett last year wrote a letter to the state Assembly majority leader emphasizing that the carrier would remain committed to serving upstate communities.
“Delta believes that removing the perimeter rule is an integral part of this effort to update and transform New York’s airports and would bring significant benefits to upstate markets, including substantially more connectivity to the West Coast,” Grimmett wrote.
On the other hand, United Airlines, which has the lion’s share of slots at Newark Liberty International Airport and could be hurt by competition for transcontinental flights, has cautioned against lifting the rule, some version of which the airline noted has been in place since the 1950s.
“Changing these limits would significantly impact airports across the New York/New Jersey region — a key market for United and our customers,” the airline said in a statement. “We continue to review the issue and look forward to working with the Port Authority to ensure that any potential changes to this longstanding and well-settled rule are in the best interests of our company and customers.”