The renaissance continues

Posted: 17 March 2006 | William R. DeCota, Director of Aviation, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey | No comments yet

William R. DeCota outlines how JFK airport has set about meeting the needs of an ever-increasing customer base…

William R. DeCota outlines how JFK airport has set about meeting the needs of an ever-increasing customer base…

When people ask which of the Port Authority’s airports I like best, I always respond, “That’s an unfair question. It’s like asking which one of your children you love the most.”

Each of the Port Authority’s three major airports – John F. Kennedy International (JFK), Newark Liberty International (EWR) and LaGuardia (LGA) – play an important part in forming the most heavily used airport system in the United States, serving the largest origin-and-destination market in the world. Without each of these world-class aviation facilities playing their part, we could not have served nearly 100 million passengers in 2005 – a record figure that’s expected to grow by nearly 25 per cent in the next decade. LGA, which handled about 26 million passengers last year, is our short-range domestic facility, serving all those passengers in an intimate setting – to say the least; the airport covers barely 660 acres, making it one of the busiest airports per acre in the world. EWR, with approximately 33 million passengers in 2005, serves a dual role, handling a great deal of intracontinental North American air traffic while maintaining a strong international profile, and it will continue to play a major role in air travel in the New York metropolitan region for decades to come.

However, much of the passenger growth in the region, is being driven by JFK. While LGA and EWR each posted modest year-over-year growth since the sharp downturn in air travel following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, JFK’s growth has been phenomenally robust. In 2002, JFK handled 29.9 million passengers. By 2003, that number had grown by more than 8 per cent – a growth rate tops among the 25 largest airports in the United States – to 31.7 million.
This growth was just a preview of what was to come. Passenger traffic was up more than 18 per cent in 2004, to a total of more than 37.5 million. Also notable in 2004, JFK led all U.S. airports by handling 17.2 per cent of outbound overseas travel, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. By 2005, the airport was handling nearly 41 million passengers – an all-time record. The growth in passenger traffic at JFK and all of the Port Authority’s airports presents a welcome challenge. That is, how do we meet the needs of an ever-increasing customer base and maintain our facilities as premier aviation gateways?

Redevelopment programme

At JFK, the answer to that question has been addressed by a $9.4 billion, public-private redevelopment programme spearheaded by the Port Authority and underway since the 1990s. This programme has delivered a host of improvements and enhancements resulting in a virtual rebirth of this venerable aviation facility. Among the many highlights of the redevelopment programme:

  • A more efficient road system in the Central Terminal Area allowing passengers to get to their terminals more quickly ($500 million).
  • New parking structures providing more than 5,800 additional spaces for travellers ($280 million).
  • A series of projects outside the Central Terminal Area including improvements to runways, taxiways and fuelling facilities ($650 million).
  • AirTrain JFK, a state-of-the-art rail system connecting the airport’s Central Terminal Area, rental car area, and long-term parking to the New York City subway system and the Long Island Rail Road ($1.9 billion).
  • JFK’s cargo facilities, featuring the latest and most-efficient technology. Along with EWR, JFK accounts for nearly 25 per cent of all air cargo imported to the United States, and the Port Authority and private developers have built close to three million square feet of new air cargo space at Kennedy and Newark airports since 1992. The two airports are home to more than 1,000 cargo companies – including airlines, cargo handlers, brokers, truckers and freight forwarders. These companies handle more than 25,000 commodities – everything from aspirin to zoo animals ($1.1 billion).
  • Terminal 1, opened in 1998 and built and operated by a partnership of Air France, Japan Airlines, Korean Air and Lufthansa ($435 million).
  • Terminal 4 (JFK International Air Terminal LLC), opened in 2001 and was built and operated by a consortium of LCOR, Inc. Schiphol USA LLC and Lehman Brothers, Inc. ($1.4 billion).
  • Plans by the Port Authority to build a new Terminal 5, behind the existing landmark TWA Flight Center designed by Eero Saarinen, to be completed in 2009 and operated by JetBlue Airways under a 30-year lease, while preserving the integrity of the historic Saarinen building. The redevelopment also includes projected investment for roadways and a new parking garage ($875 million).
  • The renovation and expansion of Terminal 7, a joint effort by British Airways, which completed the terminal work, and the Port Authority, which completed improvements to road access and a new parking deck ($220 million).
  • Terminals 8 and 9, which will be converted into one terminal by 2008 by the leaseholder, American Airlines. The first portion of this redevelopment programme was opened to the public in 2005 ($1.1 billion).

Evidently, the redevelopment programme has and will continue to have a number of far-reaching and positive implications for JFK’s customers. The new and redeveloped terminals, for instance, offer all the latest amenities, including spas; luxury retailers such as Hermes, Ferragamo, Cartier and DKNY; pubs and restaurants; and everything a traveller would expect from an award-winning concessions retail program. In addition, we have developed a pro-active Customer Care programme that focuses on direct customer contact; employees’ attitudes, appearance, awareness and knowledge; and the cleanliness, condition and functionality of the facilities.

We’ve also placed considerable focus on the issue of airport access. Our governing body, the Board of Commissioners of the Port Authority, has directed hundreds of millions of dollars in capital investment to important initiatives at JFK, such as the reconfigured roadway system that has greatly improved access and egress for drivers. We also built a world-class rail system – AirTrain JFK – that carries about 35,000 passengers per day within the airport’s Central Terminal Area, to station stops at the rental car and long-term parking areas, and to connections to New York City’s mass transit subway system and the Long Island Rail Road. In fact, today it is possible to travel from midtown Manhattan to your terminal at JFK in about 35 minutes thanks to AirTrain JFK.

Airbus and passenger growth

An extensive program of further improvements to the airport’s infrastructure augments the initiatives outlined in the redevelopment programme. In September 2005, we awarded the seventh and final contract in a $179 million programme to maintain our airside infrastructure in a state of good repair whilst also preparing JFK to handle the next generation of large aircraft, including the Airbus 380 (A-380). We are coupling necessary modifications to our airfield – relocating a taxiway, widening a runway and strengthening four taxiway bridges that cross the JFK Expressway – with improvements being made by the operators at Terminals 1 and 4. Later this year, our work is expected to be complete and we’ll be among a select few airport systems in the country prepared to welcome the A-380. Preparing JFK for the new Airbus aircraft is critical to our future, as the New York metropolitan area is home to some of the most congested airspace in the world. Last year, our three major airports handled about 1.2 million movements. We know that airlines cannot keep adding flights to meet growth because the airspace is already nearing saturation.

We believe that the best way to meet growth is for airlines to employ larger, newer (and, by default, cleaner and more-efficient) aircraft that carry more people on an equal or even lesser number of flights. The simple mathematics of the equation bears this out: With approximately 356,000 movements at JFK in 2005, we can accommodate about one million more passengers if airlines can seat three more customers on every aircraft.

There’s proof in our past of how effective this model for meeting passenger growth can be: when the Boeing 747 first arrived at JFK in 1971, movements decreased while total number of passengers rose. While the new, larger aircraft will help us meet growth in international traffic, JFK also faces the challenge of burgeoning growth in domestic travel. There are a number of factors responsible for the increase in domestic air travel originating from and destined for JFK, but none is more obvious than the incredible growth of JetBlue Airways.

From its modest beginnings when it offered its first flight ever from New York to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Feb. 11, 2000, the low-cost domestic carrier has become JFK’s most-travelled airline, with around 10 million annual passengers. Domestic growth has also been bolstered by many more of the 140 airlines operating at JFK, and today, the airport, long recognised as a U.S. hub for international traffic, actually handles more domestic passengers (about 22 million in 2005) than international (about 19 million last year).

To meet and encourage passenger growth, the Port Authority entered into an agreement with JetBlue in 2004 to build a spectacular new $875 million, 26-gate passenger terminal on the site of the historic TWA Flight Center. JetBlue Airways predicts it will double the number of passengers it presently serves, and this new terminal will enable and encourage the projected growth. Ground was broken on the new terminal in 2005, and the terminal is expected to be in service by 2009.

We’re also thrilled that American Airlines, a stalwart at JFK since the airport’s earliest days, demonstrated its commitment to JFK and the entire New York metropolitan region with a massive $1.1 billion investment in a new passenger terminal that already has begun to deliver on its promise of enhancing efficiency. The American Airlines project, which is combining Terminals 8 and 9 into one new terminal offering all the amenities and services today’s travellers want and need, will provide our customers with top-shelf customer service. The Port Authority is building a new $75 million, five-level parking garage offering nearly 2,000 spaces adjacent to the terminal to support American Airlines’ investment.

Ecomomic impact

While these types of projects carry a direct benefit for our customers, they are also vitally important to the region’s economy. The economic impact of JFK, where 35,000 people are directly employed, reverberates throughout the New York metropolitan area, as was revealed by a study completed in 2005 by the Port Authority’s economic development team. Our analysts found that nearly half a million jobs generating more than $20 billion in wages and $57 billion in annual economic activity in the metropolitan region are derived from flight operations, airport investments and tourism directly supported by the three major airports.

Protecting the people who use these important assets (and all of the Port Authority’s facilities, which include four bridges, two tunnels, an interstate rail system, two airport rail systems, shipping terminals in the Port of New York, bus terminals, and the World Trade Center site) is paramount to the Port Authority’s mission. Since the terrorist attacks of 2001, we have invested more than $2.3 billion on a vast array of security initiatives throughout our facilities. This has resulted in hardened perimeters, enhanced surveillance measures and restricted access. This year alone, we will invest a record $616 million in security spending, and our resolve to provide for the safety and security of our customers has never been stronger.

As stewards of JFK for nearly 60 years, we at the Port Authority have an acute appreciation for the airport’s many important roles: as a key player in New York City’s tourist industry, as a global gateway to the United States and as a vital element in the regional and national economies. We look forward to continuing JFK’s legacy of excellence for decades to come.

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