DOT pushes forward with tarmac rule despite exemption requests

Washington DC
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A tarmac delay rule will take effect in the USA next month despite requests from carriers for temporary immunity due to a runway closure at New York JFK airport.

Last year the US Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a tarmac delay rule effective 29 April 2010 following several highly-publicised incidents that left passengers stranded for extended periods of time.

The rule prohibits US carriers operating domestic flights from allowing an aircraft to remain on the tarmac for more than 3h without deplaning passengers, though there are exemptions for issues such as safety and security.

While the DOT prepares for the rule to take effect, the department is evaluating exemption requests, and is seeking input on how to respond to those requests.

Since the rule was finalised, JetBlue Airways, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have asked for short-term immunity from the rule at JFK due to the closure of JFK's longest runway for repaving from 1 March. The runway, which normally handles more than half of JFK's departures, will not fully reopen until 16 November.

Continental Airlines sought temporary rule relief for Newark and LaGuardia airports due to the spill-over impact of delays at JFK while US Airways requested an exemption for its Philadelphia hub.

The DOT is expected to publish its request for comment on the immunity applications in the Federal Registrar today. Feedback will be solicited for 10 days from publication in the Federal Register.

The department will probably not postpone the rule's implementation while it reviews feedback to the requested exemptions, but DOT will act quickly on the feedback, an agency spokeswoman says.