People wait in line for the security screening the day...

People wait in line for the security screening the day before Thanksgiving at LaGuardia Airport. Credit: Jason Andrew

The pinched capacity of major airports in the New York City area will soon choke off economic growth unless something is done to relieve the pressure.

With the number of hourly flights at Kennedy, Newark and LaGuardia airports capped to reduce nation-leading delays, and demand projected to increase from 104 million fliers in 2010 to 150 million by 2030, what to do is no simple matter. But a study by the Regional Plan Association, an independent research and advocacy group, made one thing clear. There's no time to waste.

Even the easy actions won't immediately bear fruit. Those include encouraging increased use of regional airports such as Long Island MacArthur, increasing rail service between cities as an alternative to planes, and pushing to implement the NextGen satellite-based, air-traffic control system. Congress should make sure the $14 billion or so is there to bring the system's first phase on line as planned by 2018.

All that would help, but it won't solve the problem. What's needed is new runways. At Kennedy that would mean filling in part of Jamaica Bay in the protected Gateway National Recreational Area, which would take an act of Congress and rapprochement with environmentalists. In Newark, one terminal and parts of two others would have to be repositioned.

Failing to act would mean forgoing 125,000 new jobs and $6 billion in wages by 2030. So doing nothing is not an option.

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