NEW YORK — JetBlue and Delta want temporary exemptions from a new government rule that will limit the time passengers can be held on the tarmac. They say delays caused by the closure of the main runway at New York's JFK airport could cost them millions in fines.
The Department of Transportation's new rule, which goes into effect April 29, orders airlines to let passengers off planes delayed for three hours or face hefty fines. In December there were 22 flights nationwide that were delayed for more than three hours from gate to departure. The new DOT rule could slap an airline with a fine of $27,500 per passenger for that kind of delay. For an average Boeing 737 with a full load of passengers, the fine could be around $3.5 million.
JetBlue and Delta are the biggest operators at JFK, an airport that was among the worst in the nation for delays last year. The JFK runway closed March 1. That is already causing delays and they could get worse.
May is the first full month the new DOT rule will be in effect. It also is the start of the peak travel season. The airlines have already cut their schedules by about 10 percent to help ease delays until the runway reopens in July. About one-third of JFK's traffic and half of its departures are now diverted to three smaller runways.
"Although JetBlue has already taken several steps to minimize the impact of this closure on its JFK operations, this exemption is necessary to ensure that JetBlue is not penalized if JFK becomes gridlocked at peak operating times," the airline said in its request to DOT.
The Federal Aviation Administration expects delays at JFK will average about 50 minutes during peak times and 29 minutes at other times during the four-month shutdown. That is about the same as delays on busy summer days.
The airlines aren't just worried about New York delays. Airport construction and other disruptions at a major airport often have a ripple effect on many flights because pilots, flight attendants and airplanes that are needed elsewhere during the day are held up.
"One late flight may delay three additional flights if the resources connect differently, and two or more late flights may delay several more flights," JetBlue said.
Major cities that are most effected by delays at JFK are Los Angeles, San Francisco and Orlando, Florida.
One-third of the nation's air traffic goes in, out, or over New York airspace every day – accounting for three-quarters of all chronic airline delays, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.