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DOT sets flight cap at Newark airport

/ Source: The Associated Press

The federal government is reducing by 13 percent peak-hours flights out of New Jersey's Newark Liberty Airport to blunt New York City-area airline delays that routinely spread nationwide.

Newark will be limited to 83 flights per hour during peak periods starting in early May, Department of Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Monday. The airport handled about 95 flights per hour during last summer's peak.

The 83-flight cap is the same one that starts Saturday at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, where about 100 flights per hour were scheduled last summer. Similar flight caps, which are intended to alleviate record-high delays, already exist at New York's LaGuardia Airport.

The caps will be in place at Newark and JFK for two years, while LaGuardia's will remain unless the government replaces it with a new rule, a Transportation Department spokesman said.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs all three airports, knew caps were coming to Newark. Peters announced the move late last year, but the government had not released the specific number until Monday.

JFK, LaGuardia and Newark last year had the nation's lowest on-time arrival rates; aviation officials say delays there cascade throughout the system.

The flight caps are designed to result in fewer scheduled flights during delay-vulnerable peak hours, and to create more options during the middle of the day, Peters said. The Newark caps should create about 30 more flights daily spread throughout the day and as capacity grows, the department will auction those slots, she added.

A Port Authority spokesman disagreed and said a recent reduction in late flights due to better weather and a heightened focus on the problem "demonstrate (that) delays can be reduced without limiting flights through caps and raising ticket prices through auctions."

A spokesman for Continental Airlines, which operates a hub at Newark, said the carrier had not yet seen the Federal Aviation Administration's order, although an 83-flight cap "would require us to adjust some of our schedules, but we would be committed to making it work."

The nation's largest airlines and the Port Authority prefer flight-path changes and improvements aimed at increasing flight capacity at airports.

"In the meantime, limiting flights can help to match airline schedules with capacity," Continental spokesman Dave Messing wrote in an e-mail.