Anyone who has gotten caught on the Van Wyck Expressway en route to John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport to catch a flight understands the pangs of agony and, sometimes, defeat.
“If we don’t improve access we will be in trouble,” said Jeffrey Zupan, a senior fellow with the Regional Plan Association (RPA), which looks at transportation planning and policy. “Even though the AirTrain has been successful, 80 percent of passengers still come to JFK by vehicle.”
Reducing congestion on the Van Wyck, flight delays, costs and the airline industry’s carbon footprint while improving in-air communication and technology, flight patterns and the passenger experience at airports were the central themes of “Airports: 21st Century Makeover for the New York Metro Region,” a conference with significant importance to the borough of Queens because of its two major airports, LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and JFK.
According to Kiran Merchant, manager of aviation planning at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ), one of the main challenges of area airports is that they sit on the same land, on the same footprint.
“We were landlocked when we started and we are making the best out of the given capacity,” said Merchant, who compared Denver airport’s 38,000 acres of land to the combined 7,800 acres of JFK, LGA and Newark International Airport (EWR). “From 1948, when the PANYNJ took over the airports [and served three million passengers], it grew to almost 110 million passengers [a year].”
Getting all of these passengers to and from the airports starts with airport access. Merchant explained how the Hong Kong airport uses a system of water ferries to get passengers to the airport.
“Can you imagine if the terminal is somewhere in Manhattan? You check in your bags; you go through security; you sit in the ferry and get to an airport. You land [dock] on the secure side of the operation and be at your gate in half an hour?” he said, recognizing that it would raise other issues of security, operations and environmental protection.
However, as the chief architect of the JFK AirTrain who literally designed a way to go over the Van Wyck, Robert Davidson thinks a ferry system has viability. But the architect of the new Jamaica and Howard Beach AirTrain stations worries about the bigger picture, connecting the region and providing better access to PANYNJ’s other airports, Stewart International Airport in Orange County and Teterboro in New Jersey.
“Passengers still have to get to a regional station,” he said. “We need to link the system together.”