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U.S. Officials Try To Slow Traffic At JFK

U.S. transportation officials say that delay-plagued John F. Kennedy International Airport shouldn't try to handle more than 80 takeoffs or landings per hour, substantially fewer than are now scheduled for some peak travel times.

JFK now has some hours when airlines plan for as many as 100 flights, a number that nearly everyone agrees is more than the congested hub can handle, even in ideal weather.

Airline officials are slated to meet with the Federal Aviation Administration this month to talk about possible reductions in the airport's schedule.

The Department of Transportation said late Friday that it had suggested an hourly cap of 80 flights as a starting point for those discussions. It also proposed a target of no more than 44 flights in any given half-hour, or 24 during any 15 minute period.

It's unclear how authorities would ration flight slots in instances where competing airlines wished to fly more planes than the cap allowed. U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has said she favors "market-based" solutions to the delay problem, but might consider mandatory scheduling restrictions.

The proposed 80-flight cap was criticized by the Air Transport Association of America, an group that represents commercial air carriers.

"This is a disappointing decision," the group's president, James May, said in a written statement. "Slashing operations at JFK alone will not solve the congestion problem but will shut the door on growth for our country's leading international gateway."

Airlines have been asking aviation officials to take other steps to relieve congestion, including flight-path changes and technological improvements they say could increase the airport's capacity.

A few airlines operating at JFK, however, have also called for some temporary caps on flights until those other solutions emerge, including its biggest domestic carrier, JetBlue.

JetBlue CEO David Barger asked the FAA in a letter last June to consider imposing flight slot controls "during all hours when scheduled operations exceed the balanced average capacity of the airport."

Such restrictions on flights used to be the norm at JFK.

Until last January, the FAA limited flight activity between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., the airport's busiest period, and the time when it is handling the most international flights.

Even before those restrictions were lifted, the number of scheduled flights - and the number of delays - had begun to soar.

In August, only 59 percent of arrivals and 63 percent of departures at JFK were on time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. During the same month a year ago, nearly 70 percent of arrivals and 72 percent of departures were on time.

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