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Editorial: Don't hold your breath for more NY-area flights anytime soon

A view of LaGuardia Airport on Oct. 31,

A view of LaGuardia Airport on Oct. 31, 2012. Credit: Getty Images

Travelers who use New York City area airports are caught in a no-win situation.

Limits on the number of flights allowed in and out of LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark airports hourly were recently extended to 2016. The Federal Aviation Administration said flight delays that start here and ripple across the nation -- which is what led it to restrict the number of flights at the airports in 2008 -- haven't changed enough to warrant lifting the caps. As a result, LaGuardia is still limited to 71 scheduled flights an hour, Kennedy 81 and Newark 81.

So travelers are afflicted by twin evils. One is flight delays frequent enough to land each of the three airports in the top 10 nationally. The other is the artificial limit on flights.

Officials of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the agency that operates the airports, say the caps limit fliers' travel options and increase fares. They want them lifted. But if the FAA allows more flights, even more passengers would be bedeviled by the delays here that propagate across the county.

Time to abandon all hope? Not quite.

High-speed taxiways now at the three airports and a new plane queuing system at Kennedy have made it possible to move planes on the ground more efficiently, Port Authority officials say.

Then there's NextGen, the long-delayed satellite-based air traffic control system that the FAA promises will make things better when it finally replaces the antiquated radar system. The upgrade should enable planes to safely take off and land closer to one another, both in time and space. Think of it as creating more lanes in the sky. The key date the FAA now is pointing to is Jan. 1, 2020. That's when every plane in controlled U.S. airspace will be required to use NextGen equipment.

Of course it's not unheard of for government deadlines, like flights, to be delayed.