The Federal Aviation Administration will allow 30 extra days for public comments on its proposal to limit daily flights at the New York City-area's three major airports and make hourly flight caps permanent, the agency said this week.
After several aviation, business and civic groups responded to the proposed rule by asking that more than the usual 90 days be allowed for comment, the FAA extended the deadline from April 8 to May 8.
Industry groups and airport neighbors are throwing their weight on opposite sides of the debate.
Some groups want the flight caps either to be increased to allow for growth in air travel demand or removed altogether, and the neighbors are begging that the FAA consider the impact on surrounding communities.
Residents have voiced concern that more flights could result from the rule, even though it would freeze the number of hourly flights at the current levels, because of a use-it-or-lose-it policy in the rule that would force an airline to use each slot -- or scheduled flight time assigned to them -- at least 80 percent of the time, or risk losing the slot to a competitor, which neighbors argue could increase actual use of the airports.
If the rule is passed, it would make permanent a 2008 cap limiting both Kennedy and Newark Liberty International airports to 81 takeoffs and landings per hour between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m., and a 2007 rule limiting LaGuardia to 71 flights per hour between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. It also would set new caps of 1,136 total flights at LaGuardia and 1,205 total flights at both Newark and Kennedy between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., all in an effort to fight chronic delays and congestion at the airports.
The Global Gateway Alliance, a New York and New Jersey travelers group that advocates for airport improvements, wrote the FAA last week, asking for more flights per hour to reflect growing demand for air travel and surging passenger numbers.
Projections show passenger demand will soon outpace the current flight caps, the Alliance said, and limiting capacity is "a superficial solution to a long-term problem."
The caps could also eventually hurt ticket prices, the group said: Based on the rule of supply and demand, as demand for travel into the area increases, ticket prices could reasonably be hiked if the caps keep the supply at current levels.
The letter, signed by Alliance chairman Joseph Sitt, as well as Tim Zagat, co-chair of Zagat Survey; Tom Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association; and others, also asked that data on current slot assignments be made public so airport operators and passengers can see how they're being used.
Airlines, the group said, shouldn't be allowed to serve the same airport within an hour using two separate, small planes, rather than one bigger plane.
"Right now, airlines can purchase multiple slots in the same hour that they don't always need," the group wrote. "By preventing redundant second flights in the same hour, the FAA could make room for more carriers and reduce the number of small planes that limit overall capacity."
Airplane noise opponents say the rule is another form of punishment for those who live near the airports. Len Schaier, a retired engineer from Port Washington and president of QuietSkies.net, said in a letter to the FAA that even though the rule won't increase the allowed number of flights, it is designed to "exacerbate the noise problem" with its use-it-or-lose-it policy.
FAA data published in the Federal Register when the rule was announced in January showed that sometimes as many as 15 more flights per hour are scheduled than actually occur, and in 2014 none of the airports averaged enough flights per day to meet the caps.
"People think they're being protected [by flight caps], and to a certain extent they are," Schaier said. "But when the new rule goes into effect, even though the numbers are the same, chances are the actual usage will go up."