Search the Site

Want to Fix New York Air Congestion? Shut Down LaGuardia


So the Department of Transportation has canceled its plan to auction off landing and takeoff slots at New York City’s three airports. The idea was to use market forces to ease congestion; but in the face of industry backlash (and legal threats), new Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood called it off.
“We’re still serious about tackling aviation congestion in the New York region,” LaHood says. “I’ll be talking with airline, airport, and consumer stakeholders, as well as elected officials, over the summer about the best ways to move forward.”
The three major airports serving New York — J.F.K., Newark-Liberty, and LaGuardia — are famously high-ranked when it comes to congestion and delays. And since so many flights elsewhere connect through New York, their delays affect air traffic everywhere.
During a recent ground delay at LaGuardia, I got to talking with an off-duty pilot for a major airline who was extraordinarily knowledgeable about every single airline question I could think to ask him. (With any luck, he’ll soon be joining us here as a guest blogger.) When I asked for his take on New York air congestion, he said the solution was easy: shut down LaGuardia.
The problem, as he explained it, is that the airspace for each of the three airports extends cylindrically into the sky above its ground position. Because of their relative proximity, the three airspace cylinders affect one another significantly, which creates congestion not just because of volume but because pilots have to thread the needle and fly needlessly intricate approach routes in order to comply.
If the LaGuardia cylinder were eliminated, he said, Newark and J.F.K. would both operate much more freely — and, since LaGuardia handles far less traffic than the other two airports, it is the obvious choice for shuttering.
But there’s a problem: LaGuardia is the favored airport of the people with the most political power in New York, since it is a very short ride from Manhattan. So it’s unlikely to happen, at least anytime soon. But if it did, my new pilot friend insisted, New York air travel would move from nightmare to dream.
I have to admit that LaGuardia is my favorite airport, since I live in Manhattan and can usually get there in about 15 minutes. On every other dimension, meanwhile, it is less pleasant and comfortable than either Newark or J.F.K.
That said, if eliminating LaGuardia had the cascading effect of streamlining all New York air traffic, I would personally help start knocking it down. Let’s say that I, and every other New York traveler, spends an average of 30 wasted minutes on every inbound and outbound flight in any of the three airports. (That’s probably being generous.) That’s a one-hour delay for each round trip. If I had to go to Newark or J.F.K. for every flight, I’d spend a little bit less than an extra hour on a round-trip ground commute to the airport — so with no delays, I’d at least be breaking even. Everyone who lived closer to either airport would obviously do even better. And then we’d get to start adding up all the time and productivity regained around the country by eliminating the inevitable New York airport delays.
Is anyone else in favor of exploring a shut-down of our beloved, troublemaking LaGuardia?