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United wants dual approaches at Newark to expand hub

United Airlines wants to move towards “dual approaches and departures” for aircraft at Newark Liberty International airport, something its president Scott Kirby says is needed to expand its hub there.

“The key we’re going to need to work on to really make the Newark hub structure work is to get to a world where we can have dual approaches and dual departures,” he says in a video message to employees of the Chicago-based carrier on 27 February.

Typical operations see one aircraft land and then one depart on runways 22L and 22R at Newark today. The airport can increase throughput slightly if it uses cross runway 11 for arrivals.

Aircraft operations were limited to 81 per hour at Newark prior to the US Federal Aviation Administration's decision to remove slot restrictions in October 2016.

Dual approaches and departures at Newark would likely involve two aircraft arriving on 22L and 22R, followed by two aircraft departing on the same runways.

Kirby likens the sought dual “procedure” to operations at San Francisco International airport, which often uses two runways for approaches and two for departures.

San Francisco, which has four runways compared to three at Newark, can handle roughly 100 operations per hour split evenly between arrivals and departures in good weather, an airport spokesman says.

However, the air space around Newark is more congested than in San Francisco, a fact that could impact any operational changes more than runway capacity.

“It is a challenging airport [and] it is a challenging air space,” says Kirby.

Any changes to the arrival and departures patterns at Newark airport would involve coordination with air traffic control, the FAA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), says Kirby. He does not comment on a timeline.

Increasing the number of aircraft movements at Newark are key to United’s plans for its hub there, says Kirby. The airline wants to operate more flights during its banks - waves of coordinated arrivals and departures that facilitate passenger connections - in order to boost connecting traffic and better compete with other carriers and hubs.

This should allow the carrier to regain some of the market share it lost to other airlines in the New York market over the past decade, Kirby adds.

“New York is a market where, I’m sad to say, we just lost our way,” he says, citing United’s drop in share to 26% from 30% a decade ago.

Kirby does not mention terminal facilities at Newark, which could also limit the carrier’s ability to expand its hub at the airport.

Earlier in February, United announced plans for new service to Sacramento and additional frequencies to Atlanta, Detroit and Portland in Oregon from Newark from June. These are among the first additions of a domestic expansion that the airline is embarking on to recapture marketshare and boost revenues.

Newark saw a 7% increase in passenger traffic to 40 million during the year ending in November 2016, PANYNJ data shows. It is the second busiest airport in the New York area behind John F Kennedy International, which handled 58.8 million passengers during the same period.

The PANYNJ declines to comment. The FAA was not immediately available for comment.

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