Advocates say Cuomo's airport modernization program ignores one key fact – a lack of air space

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is hoping to usher in a new golden age of air travel by extensively renovating John F. Kennedy International Airport, but advocates fear he’s missing an important aspect: the actual travel in the air.

“The biggest challenge they face is air traffic in and out of New York airspace … it’s hugely congested airspace. Nothing here changes that,” said Gary Leff, an air travel expert and writer of the View from the Wing blog.

Cuomo introduced a $10 billion plan to renovate New York City’s largest airport as one of his State of the State proposals in January. The plan includes connecting the now-separate terminals, improving automobile traffic patterns and parking, boosting security, and adding new shopping and amenities.

The Global Gateway Alliance, a business group advocating for better airports generally praised the proposal, but noted some shortcomings as well.

“We must renew our focus on implementing 21st-century NextGen air traffic technology and expanding our runways to make sure we tackle the delay problem, otherwise better airports will just be nicer places to be stuck waiting," Global Gateway Alliance Chairman Joe Sitt said in a press release.

New York airports are notorious for delays. JFK, LaGuardia and Newark were all among the five worst airports for on-time flights, according to a 2016 Global Gateway Alliance report. NextGen, an ongoing modernization of the country’s air traffic control infrastructure, seems to be the way to fix that, and the Global Gateway Alliance has been beating that drum for a long time. It’s a federal program that a governor like Cuomo can’t directly implement, but he hasn’t been silent on it. He promised to “work with our federal partners to make air traffic more efficient by expediting new air traffic technology” in a 2014 airport announcement. More than two year later, advocates say NextGen has a long way to go and seems to have lost its urgency. The “vision plan” submitted by Cuomo’s Airport Advisory Panel in January removes the governor from the equation, merely suggesting the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the region’s congressional delegation ensure NextGen’s continued funding.

“The governor has a bully pulpit around it, which he has used and should continue to use,” said Stephen Sigmund, Global Gateway Alliance’s executive director. The governor’s office declined to comment for this story.

While less firm on implementing NextGen, the Airport Advisory Panel report was clear on the need to lobby the Federal Aviation Administration on loosening operating controls. The report suggests that by expanding the taxiways where airplanes maneuver on the ground, Kennedy Airport would be able to handle an extra 86 combined takeoffs and landings per hour – up from the current FAA-mandated “slot control” limit of 81.

However, that wouldn’t do anything for JFK’s notorious plane congestion, Leff said. “Expanding, widening taxiways just isn’t going to make a huge difference, especially when the purpose of that is lifting slot controls – more slots, more flights,” he said. “Whatever they can accomplish there, it’s going to trade off. You’re not going to get fewer delays.”

Frequent flyers will continue to wait on NextGen, but others are less optimistic that New York can ever reduce delays. “No matter how you slice it or what efficiencies you enact, you still have three major airports 10 miles apart from one another,” said Phil Derner, founder of NYCAviation LLC. “Capacity can only become so good and I fear NYC will always be the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ of airline delays in the United States.”


– JFK Airport overhaul

– Another $500 million for Buffalo Billion investments
– A new study on tunnel options to replace the aging Syracuse I-81 viaduct

– $35.8 million for Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport and $38 million for Plattsburgh International Airport

– Town of Woodbury transit hub