JetBlue hopes some practices from JFK runway closure will remain intact

Washington DC
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Officials from JetBlue Airways are hopeful new processes introduced during the closure of the main runway at its JFK base remain intact now that the project is officially completed.

Runway 13-31 closed in March for a 120-day reconstruction project that included widening of the airport's major runway that handles one-third of JFK's operations.

The runway officially re-opens today, but the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey confirms to ATI that some airlines used the runway yesterday.

Most carriers serving JFK paired down their schedules during the runway closure to ease congestion and schedule disruptions in their networks.

One of JFK's largest operators JetBlue Airways believes a new kind of departure sequence process at JFK introduced during the shut-down of runway 13-31 should remain in place.

In an interview with ATI sister publication Airline Business JetBlue Chief Commercial Officer Robin Hayes explains the process entails aircraft being held at the gate and gradually pushed out to ease congestion on the airfield and eliminate long lines of aircraft.

"I think there are some good things that happened with this runway closure," says Hayes. "I think whenever you stress a system you always find more efficient ways of working it."

Airlines are likely to ramp-up their schedules at JFK fairly quickly to meet demand of the high travel season in the Northern Hemisphere.

"The demand is clearly there this summer," Hayes says. "Last year a lot of airlines discounted and dropped prices to stimulate demand, and I think this summer we've sent a lot less of that, so planes are busier and fares are up."

The busy summer period should also test airline adherence to the new tarmac delay rule effective 29 April that prohibits US airlines operating domestic flights from allowing an aircraft to remain on a tarmac for more than 3h without deplaning passengers. Violations of the rule can carry fines of $27.500 per passenger.

"I don't think yet we've had more cancellations as a result of the three hour rule," says Hayes. "But I think the risk is there particularly as we get into the summer thunderstorm season."

During winter weather "things are easier to plan", says Hayes, "you know something's coming in, you pre-cancel, you let people know".

But when pop-up thunderstorms appear on or near the airfield that creates challenges for carriers in their planning.

For those reasons Hayes thinks "the rule will be tested in the summer. Then the industry can take a view at the end of the summer whether it's been something that's worked or not. We'll see. The jury is still out."