The U.S. government has taken the first step toward possibly limiting flights as early as next summer at New York's John F. Kennedy airport, one of the busiest and one of the worst for delays and congestion.
The Federal Aviation Administration has taken the rare early step of asking major carriers for their JFK scheduling information for next spring and summer, according to a regulatory notice obtained by Reuters.
A similar request also was sent to airlines at New Jersey's Newark international airport, another location hit hard by delays this year.
Airlines must respond to both requests by October 11.
The FAA only reviews schedule information this far in advance at a handful of airports nationally, and only controls flight operations at two, New York LaGuardia and Chicago O'Hare.
"We want to determine if there will be periods where scheduling exceeds capacity," said FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown.
The scheduling request, Brown said, does not mean the agency has decided to limit flight operations.
But the FAA said in its notice to airlines: "This could result in operational limits during peak hours."
JetBlue Airways is based at JFK and Delta Air Lines operates two terminals there. In a statement, JetBlue said it supported FAA efforts aimed at "getting ahead of congestion" and encouraged the agency to immediately convene a meeting of airlines to discuss scheduling.
"We look to their leadership to help resolve congestion issues," JetBlue said.
American Airlines operates international and some domestic service at Kennedy. United Airlines has significantly reduced its presence at JFK.
The International Air Transport Association, which represents international carriers, said the status quo of delays was not acceptable, noting that airlines waste fuel and emit more emissions if arrival and departure times are extended. About 100 international carriers serve JFK.
"By reviewing schedules in advance, we hope this will help FAA and Port Authority improve efficiency and better plan for the peak operations next summer," an IATA spokesman said.
Flight delays and departures are on a record pace for 2007, prompting consumer dissatisfaction and congressional attention to airline service.
Airlines are trying to maximize revenues to keep their modest recovery on track and would not welcome government interference. Carriers argue they are just meeting demand and that other aviation operations, like corporate jets, play a role in congestion, especially in New York.
Major airlines nationally operated more than 4.3 million flights for the first seven months of 2007, and reported 1.08 million delays. More than 106,000 flights have been canceled. In July alone, airlines scheduled a record number of flights, more than 647,000.
Airline operations at JFK jumped 23 percent between October 2006 and July 2007 compared to the same period a year earlier, Transportation Department figures show.
Average daily arrivals with delays greater than one hour at JFK increased 114 percent and the airport's on-time arrival rate fell from 69.7 percent to 61.2 percent. JFK's arrival rate in July alone was the worst of any major airport, 57 percent.
Marion Blakey, whose term as FAA administrator ended earlier this month, said in a speech before she left office that airlines needed to "take a step back" on scheduling, especially in the East, or the FAA could intervene.
According to the notice, the FAA wants to review scheduling between March and November 2008, particularly during the 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and the 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. slots. Those periods are peak times for business travel.