Over $9 billion has been earmarked to transform New York's run-down international airport, recently described as one of the worst in the USA

Ramon Lopez/NEW YORK

Last year, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called Kennedy and LaGuardia "two of the worst airports in America." He added: "This is the worst form of a government bureaucracy that is running something that should be run by private enterprise." Citing "decades of neglect", Giuliani's office is soliciting private operators to assume management of the airports in 2015 when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's lease from the City of New York runs out - or sooner.

But officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who are aware of Kennedy's well-earned reputation as congested and "user unfriendly", hope to win back public support through its JFK Redevelopment Programme. The transformation is taking shape despite political squabbling. Meanwhile, Port Authority officials are campaigning to attract new tenants, a search bolstered by new federal legislation which has loosened slot restrictions at the major airport, located 24 traffic-clogged kilometres (15 miles) from midtown Manhattan.

Kennedy, which handled 31.7 million passengers last year, including 18.2 million international travellers, expects moderate growth in the coming years. By 2004, says Stephen Smolenski, the assistant programme director of the airport's redevelopment, total passenger traffic is projected to rise to 39 million, including 21.8 million international passengers.

An exciting time

The number of gates at New York Kennedy would increase from 149 to 169 if all proposed development takes place. More significantly, the number of remote gates would drop by 23, improving passenger service. "This is an exciting time to work at JFK. There is more construction going on now than ever before in Kennedy International's history," Smolenski adds.

The $9 billion redevelopment project, shared by the Port Authority and its major airline tenants, includes a projected $5.1 billion for replacement or substantial renovation of the airport's nine major terminals and nearly $2 billion for infrastructure improvements, including new roadways, three new parking garages and upgraded utilities.

Another $1.5 billion is allocated for AirTrain, a new automated light rail line that will link the passenger terminals with the Long Island Rail Road and the New York subway system, beginning in 2003. A new airport control tower, constructed on the ramp-side of Terminal 4, began full US Federal Aviation Administration operations in October 1994. The airport's runway system is unaffected by the work. This consists of two pairs of parallel runways, aligned at right angles, including Runway 13R-31L, which at 4,445m (14,572ft) long, is the longest commercial runway in North America.

Already completed is the resurgence of Terminal 1 which was undertaken by Terminal One Group Association (TOGA). At a cost of $435 million, the partnership of Air France, Japan Air Lines, Korean Air and Lufthansa opened the new 11-gate Terminal 1 in 1998 on the site of the former Eastern Air Lines facility.

Next year, British Airways and the Port Authority will finish their $220 million renovation of Terminal 7. It will also see the restoration of Terminal 4 (formerly the International Arrivals Building) by JFK International Air Terminal, a non-airline private sector group. The consortium is made up of Schiphol USA, the US affiliate of the operator of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, LCOR, a real estate developer and US investment banking firm Lehman Brothers. It was formed to undertake the $1.1 billion project. Terminal 4 will have 16 gates and be able to expand to another 20 gates or more. It will be the only terminal at Kennedy with an AirTrain station inside the passenger facility. Elsewhere, sheltered connectors with moving walkways will run between the light rail stops and the terminals.


Meanwhile, in January, American Airlines - the airport's largest air carrier - initiated a seven-year project to convert Terminals 8 and 9 into a $1 billion "mega-terminal," the largest at the airport serving both domestic and international passengers. The complex will include new parking, 220 check-in counters, 13 baggage carousels, shops, restaurants, three concourses and 59 aircraft gates, including 18 for regional jets operated by American Eagle. The construction will be done in four phases, with completion due in 2006. Delta Air Lines, which occupies Terminals 2 and 3, has yet to decide how to grow at Kennedy, but it may construct another $1 billion mega-terminal at the airport. A $150 million facelift is under way as a stopgap measure for the airport's second largest customer. Work includes airbridges, new baggage facilities and additional gates.

Terminal 5, which was designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen and considered a landmark, appears safe from the wrecking ball, and remains the home of Trans World Airlines, the airport's third largest carrier.

United Airlines operates in Terminal 6 with JetBlue, a new low-fare domestic US air carrier, but also in Terminal 7, where it leases six gates for international flights from British Airways. United may soon launch a major renovation of Terminal 6 as part of an effort to consolidate operations and grow at Kennedy.

"As a result of the Port Authority's commitment to rebuild Kennedy Airport, we have seen a tremendous surge in interest from the airlines - both domestic and international carriers - to increase service at JFK," says William DeCota, the Port Authority's director of aviation. DeCota's strategy is to attract air carriers which have schedules opposite those of transatlantic operators. Smolenski says the idea is to "maximise utilisation of the space we have. Leaving gates empty several hours a day does not allow for good use of your resources."

For example, new entrants Spirit Airlines and Eastwind Airlines operate several flights at Kennedy and JetBlue launched a domestic service in February, investing $60 million in terminal improvements. DeCota says JetBlue's decision to base itself at the airport "is another piece in the overall solidification of JFK as one of the world's greatest airports. In stages, we are seeing a complete remake of this airport."

JetBlue has ordered 25 new Airbus A320s and optioned another 50 of the International Aero Engines V2500-powered aircraft in a deal worth $4 billion. It plans to serve 11 US destinations by the end of this year with ten A320s and 30 US cities within three years. It also plans to begin overnight transcontinental flights this summer to increase aircraft utilisation. JetBlue will receive an A320 every five weeks over the next three years.

White house help

Helping DeCota's campaign for new business is US President Bill Clinton, who recently signed into law the US FAA $40 billion reauthorisation bill (AIR-21) which allows more US carriers to serve four previously slot-restricted airports, including Kennedy. The law authorises new-entrant airlines and those serving small communities with small civil transports to add services at Kennedy.

The legislation begins the phasing out of slot restrictions which were implemented in 1969 to address severe congestion and delay problems at airports. In 1994, some exemptions were granted for new carriers, but the new law states that all slot restrictions will be eliminated on 1 July, 2002, at Chicago's O'Hare and 1 January, 2007 at Kennedy and LaGuardia.

In addition, the legislation immediately exempts new or additional service to small communities by aircraft with fewer than 71 seats. It also allows airlines with limited operations to increase service at the New York airports to a total of 20 slots each.

US passenger and cargo carrier Tower Air has been a long-term tenant at Kennedy, investing $10 million in its headquarters at the airport over the years, but its long-term presence there remains in doubt.

In March, Tower Air filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after laying off 300 workers - 18% of its workforce - as part of a company restructuring plan designed to cut costs. Tower vows to continue flying, although its limited scheduled passenger services have been halted, and its fleet was recently reduced to 11 Boeing 747s.

Source: Flight International