A year's worth of hand-wringing about flight delays may be paying off at one of the nation's most congested airports.
John F. Kennedy International Airport saw some mild improvements in its chronically awful on-time record over the autumn and winter holiday seasons. About 73 percent of all arrivals and departures were on time in the period between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31, compared to 67 percent during the same period a year earlier.
While the gains weren't earth-shattering, they were enough that in January JFK found itself off the list of the 50 most delayed airports in the country, among hubs with at least 1,000 departures per day. The Queens airport spent most of last year near the top of the most-delayed list.
JFK's better showing came amid an intensive effort to tackle the city's air congestion problem, which has been blamed for causing delays nationwide.
Around Thanksgiving, the U.S. Department of Transportation began a series of initiatives that included tinkering with takeoff routes and taxi patterns and allowing commercial aircraft to avoid traffic by using military airspace.
An aviation task force identified scores of steps that could be taken to boost efficiency at JFK, LaGuardia and Newark (N.J.) Liberty International airports. In December, the Federal Aviation Administration also began its first tentative steps at implementing a major overhaul of the region's airspace.
Aviation officials aren't yet sure if those efforts helped the problem, and it's possible that better weather may explain some of the improvements. But acting FAA Administrator Robert A. Sturgell said Thursday the agency is seeing some positive signs.
"Even with those limited changes, our initial data is promising," Sturgell said.
Aviation authorities aren't through attacking the delay problem in New York.
Starting March 15, the Department of Transportation will begin restricting the number of flights at JFK in an attempt to reduce congestion. No more than 83 flight operations will be allowed per hour, down from as many as 100 last year.
The rule has led to fewer flights being scheduled at peak hours, when delays were worst, and more during the middle of the day.
Similar caps are expected to be announced soon for Newark Liberty International Airport.
"The caps will decrease delays," Sturgell said. He added that the FAA is also accelerating plans to install new equipment at JFK that should allow airlines and controllers to direct planes more efficiently while they are still on the ground.
The FAA's attempts to tackle the flight delay problem haven't been greeted with universal warmth.
Politicians representing communities beneath some of the new flight paths have raised complaints about engine noise, and the union representing air traffic controllers has questioned whether the rush to implement the changes has led to safety compromises.
The changes have yet to produce gains at either LaGuardia and Newark Liberty, which continued to rank among the country's most delay-prone this winter. Philadelphia International Airport, which has also been the subject of a delay-reduction effort, saw a small improvement.