JetBlue And Delta Petition For Relief From New Delay Fines

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The Department of Transportation's new rule limiting the time passengers can be held on closed aircraft away from the gate goes into effect April 29, but Delta and JetBlue think construction at JFK may give them good reason to be excused from potential fines. The airlines, which operate a majority of flights at the airport, have petitioned for temporary exemptions from the rule because a four-month-long project at JFK will close the airport's longest of four runways (14,572-foot 13R/31L) as it is widened and repaved in concrete through July. Under normal conditions during peak hours, the FAA estimates the runway's closure may cause delays of about 50 minutes, and those delays will then ripple out to other airports and through affected carriers' schedules. Both Delta and JetBlue have made adjustments to their schedules but fear that may not be enough. Under the DOT's new rule, an airline could be fined for every passenger held on a closed non-traveling airliner for more than three hours. Translated into dollars, it means that an airline that left passengers on a full Boeing 737 could be subjected to nearly $3.5 million in fines.

Runway 13R/31L is among the longest and busiest in the world and has found a place on the list for backup landing sites for the space shuttle. In 2009, JFK ranked 28 out of 31 airports for on-time performance. The runway project will not help. Delta and JetBlue have cut their flights at JFK by about 10 percent, padded their schedules and may raise prices to balance demand, but fear that may not be enough. The airport usually has its rush hour at 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.. Morning delays there can then compromise schedules nationwide. The DOT's timing puts its new rule, which could hit airlines to the tune of $27,500 per passenger, in place at the beginning of the peak travel season. The legislation is championed by organizations like Flyersrights.org.