Two metropolitan New York airports, John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty, are reopening for some flights today as Atlantic superstorm Sandy’s disruption of the busiest U.S. aviation market starts to ease.
Airlines “will be providing limited service” at both sites, which are opening at 7 a.m. after closing on Oct. 29, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey said in a statement. New York’s LaGuardia Airport and New Jersey’s Teterboro remain shut, the agency said.
New York’s airports have lagged behind the recovery of their East Coast peers as carriers rebuild schedules in cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. LaGuardia and Newark each had more than 1,200 flights canceled yesterday, the most in the nation, industry researcher FlightAware said.
“Damage from the storm has been extensive,” United Continental Holdings Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Smisek told employees in a letter yesterday. “The runways at LaGuardia have been flooded, and there has been some facility damage at Newark that we are currently assessing.”
U.S. cancellations for today stood at 1,875, Houston-based FlightAware said late yesterday, predicting an increase in the total “before the NYC area airports reopen.”
Airlines pulled planes out of the region on Oct. 28 as then-Hurricane Sandy barreled toward landfall, and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey announced the closing of the three airports late the following day.
Delta Air Lines Inc. expects some flights today at Kennedy, said Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based airline. A Southwest Airlines Co. spokeswoman, Olga Romero, said the Dallas-based carrier may be flying at LaGuardia after 1 p.m. New York time.
AMR Corp.’s American Airlines and Tempe, Arizona-based US Airways Group Inc. are working toward tomorrow in New York. Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for Fort Worth, Texas-based American, said “substantial flooding” occurred at all three airports.
“US Airways operations at LaGuardia, JFK and Newark will remain idle until at least noon on Thursday,” Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom said yesterday in a message to employees. “LaGuardia, in particular, was hard hit with several feet of standing water currently on runways and ramp areas.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told reporters that he didn’t expect LaGuardia to open today.
Counting scrapped trips since Oct. 28, the cancellations tally attributable to Sandy exceeds 18,100, FlightAware said. Chicago’s O’Hare airport scrubbed almost 500 East Coast arrivals and departures yesterday, the city’s aviation department said.
CEO Rick Seaney of travel website FareCompare estimated that about 1.5 million airline passengers had travel plans interrupted by Sandy in the two days through yesterday. Some cancellations will persist as airlines reposition planes and people after the “freak storm,” he said.
“We might have a lingering effect, but it should be good to go for road warriors on Monday,” he said.
With New York’s airports not operating at normal levels, disruptions would continue to ripple outward. Together, they handle more passengers in a year than Atlanta’s Hartsfield, the busiest U.S. facility. Kennedy is an international base for Delta and American, as well as alliance partners such as Air France-KLM Group and British Airways, respectively. LaGuardia’s flights are mostly domestic.
Sandy’s wrath was felt in floods spilling across New York’s waterfront tarmacs, United’s loss of electricity at Newark yesterday and even the continuing subway shutdown, robbing airlines of the airport workers needed to return operations to normal.
Photos posted on JetBlue Airways Corp.’s blog and Twitter account showed LaGuardia aprons and taxiways awash, with water lapping at the wheels of a jet bridge in one image.
“It’s not super high ... but certainly deep enough to cause major disruptions to our operation,” JetBlue said in a message posted in response to a Twitter follower who inquired about the picture. LaGuardia is a secondary airport for JetBlue, whose main base is Kennedy.
Airport officials will have to inspect runways for damage and debris and ensure that lighting and other equipment is working before operations can resume, said Debbie McElroy, a spokeswoman for the Washington-based Airports Council International-North America trade group.
The Federal Aviation Administration is responsible for gear such as radars and radios, and it is “conducting a damage assessment to quickly repair or re-establish any damaged air traffic facilities or critical navigational aids,” according to an e-mailed statement.
Bounded on two sides by the waters of Flushing Bay, LaGuardia is as low as 6.7 feet (2 meters) above sea level at its southeast corner, according to AirNav.com, an aviation-data website.
A 2010 report from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation on rising sea levels identified the airport as a flooding risk.
“A ten-foot storm surge, similar to that of Hurricane Donna in 1960, would begin to overtop its protective barriers,” according to the report. Flood damage wouldn’t be uniform, according to the report, saying “a more detailed study is needed to evaluate which areas would be most vulnerable.”
Air-freight operations slowed on the East Coast along with passenger flights. United Parcel Service Inc. planned to open its airport gateways in the region late yesterday, with the exception of Newark and Kennedy, said Susan Rosenberg, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based company.
UPS’s ground operations will be running in New York City, New York’s Long Island and Connecticut, she said. Delays will linger in parts of New Jersey, where downed trees and power lines make deliveries difficult, as well as in snow-covered West Virginia, Rosenberg said in a telephone interview.
FedEx Corp., which is based in Memphis, Tennessee, and operates the world’s largest cargo airline, also is working back toward normal service, said a spokeswoman, Shea Leordeanu.
“In most areas, we’re going to be at near normal operations,” Leordeanu said by telephone. “But we will still have localized delays based on both safety and accessibility.”
--With assistance from Alan Levin in Washington and Freeman Klopott in Albany, New York. Editors: Ed Dufner, James Langford
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