American Airlines is the latest to ask that its JFK operations be exempt from the forthcoming tarmac delay rules, set to take effect April 29. The airline is worried that ongoing runway construction at the delay-prone airport will make it difficult to adhere to the new rules—and, more importantly, avoid the $27,500-per-passenger fine. The Dallas Morning News reports that "fines for a full Boeing 757 aircraft that American flies to JFK could total $5.2 million."
American said it is only seeking an exemption for the construction period.
American's request follows a similar call for leniency made last week by Delta and JetBlue. JetBlue, the biggest carrier at JFK, seemed particularly concerned, saying, "Although JetBlue has already taken several steps to minimize the impact of this closure on its J.F.K. operations, this exemption is necessary to ensure that JetBlue is not penalized if J.F.K. becomes gridlocked at peak operating times."
According to the News, American said that without an exemption, it would be forced to "strategically cancel flights proactively so as to avoid putting more aircraft on already congested JFK runways." This, of course, merely echoes the airlines' standard line (some might say threat) about tarmac delay legislation overall, that it will force airlines to cancel flights that might otherwise be completed—albeit late. There's absolutely some truth to this, but at the same time the airlines have thus far expressed little interest in finding a more sustainable solution to the problem.
However, in the case of JFK, which is notorious for its delays, exempting airlines might not be such a bad idea. The airport is operating at severely reduced capacity due to the runway closure, and the airlines have little to no control over the situation. Many airlines, including American and JetBlue, have postponed capacity increases that may have otherwise gone into effect during the construction, but that merely prevents any further exacerbation of the problem. It does seem like the Department of Transportation (DOT) can, and probably should, lift the restrictions while the runway construction is ongoing.
Readers, what do you think? Considering JFK is such an important hub, and already something of a bottleneck in our air travel system, should the DOT exempt carriers from it's new rules while the runway is closed?