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FAA: Hourly flight caps at Newark Liberty to end in October

Hourly flight caps at Newark Liberty International Airport,

Hourly flight caps at Newark Liberty International Airport, in effect since 2008, will be removed as of Oct. 30, 2016, the FAA said. Above, a plane takes off from the New Jersey airport on July 25, 2013. Credit: AP / Julio Cortez

Hourly flight caps that have been in effect at Newark Liberty International Airport since 2008 will be removed as of Oct. 30, the Federal Aviation Administration said Friday, a result of decreased delays and less demand at the major New Jersey airport.

The Port Authority, which has for years spoken out against the use of flight caps at its airports, lauded the FAA’s decision, which it said will result in more efficient use of “scarce airfield capacity” at Newark, according to a statement. “This action will help travelers by increasing competition and choices at Newark Liberty by allowing more flights by different airlines, thereby helping to reduce airfares.”

Under the current rules system, peak travel time flights — those between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. — are capped at 81 per hour at Newark, and airlines are assigned scheduled flights, or slots. To mitigate serious congestion and delays at the airport in May 2008, the FAA began limiting scheduled operations there.

At that time, the FAA said it was concerned about a “spillover effect” at Newark resulting from the new hourly flight caps that were squeezing operations at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports during the busy summer travel season. The FAA said Friday the slot rule system will stay in place at those airports and will be extended until October 2018.

When the slot rule system was adopted in 2008, there were more flights operating at Newark and significantly more delays than in recent years, and on-time arrivals and departures have been steadily improving, the FAA said.

As a result, the hourly caps will be eliminated and Newark will move from a Level 3 designation under the International Air Transport Association Worldwide Slot Guidelines to a Level 2, schedule-facilitated airport. According to the association, a Level 2 airport has “potential for congestion during some periods of the day, week or season, which can be resolved by schedule adjustments mutually agreed between the airlines,” along with input from the Port Authority and the FAA, in this case.

“Under the Level 2 review process, the FAA intends to work with carriers to match flight times with available runway capacity similar to what is done under the Level 3 process today,” the federal agency said.

“The significant improvements in on-time performance and delays at Newark allowed us to make these changes,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “This change will improve access to some of the most in-demand airspace in the country and has the potential to provide more options for local consumers.

Huerta said the FAA is also open to considering changing the flight limits at Kennedy at some point in the future.

According to the notice posted in the Federal Register, the average demand at Newark during weekday peak hours hasn’t met the 81 allowed hourly flights for years.

Comparisons of summer 2015 demand and runway capacity versus the conditions at the airport in 2008 when the slot rule was adopted showed operations in 2015 were down 8 percent, arrival delays went from 16,100 to 10,100 minutes, mean arrival delays decreased from 24 to 16.3 minutes, and mean departure delays were down to 14.2 minutes from 18 minutes, the agency said.

While there won’t be formal slots or caps in the new designation, the FAA, Port Authority and airlines will have to collaborate on scheduling to prevent congestion and delays from getting out of control — if they do, the airport could be returned to the slot rule system.

“While delays are expected to increase as flights are added in peak hours, the average delays are not expected to exceed the levels accepted when the scheduling limit order was adopted in 2008,” the FAA said in an email.

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