28 Expand and redesign Kennedy and Newark airports

Many improvements could help reduce delays and handle additional passengers at JFK, Newark, and LaGuardia, including implementing new air traffic control technology, improving intercity rail service, and expanding service at other airports in the region. But the only thing that would significantly increase capacity at these major airports is building new runways.

Of the three airports, LaGuardia is the most land-constrained and lacks the facilities for international service, while JFK and Newark are better suited for expansion—which will be necessary to accommodate the anticipated overall growth in air travel, and to absorb both the many commercial flights from LaGuardia and those displaced by the closing of Teterboro.

Expand JFK on both the airside and landside

JFK will eventually need two new runways, larger, better-designed terminals, and new transit service that supports a one-seat ride through to Manhattan. The plan must include protection from storm surges, and the restoration of Jamaica Bay.

  • Construct a new 9,000-foot departure and arrival runway west of the terminal area. A second 7,000- to 8,000-foot arrival runway will eventually be needed either adjacent to this western runway or between the two eastern runways. All new runways should be built to minimize the impact on Jamaica Bay.
  • Consolidate the six existing terminals into four larger common-use facilities, with all gates available to all airlines.
  • Reconfigure the central terminal area to improve service with open and spacious terminals, business centers, and customer amenities that would be competitive with cities such as Singapore, Amsterdam, Madrid, and London.
  • Rebuild and expand on-airport AirTrain stations at JFK: Parts of the existing AirTrain alignment could be rebuilt in the central terminal area to better integrate it with the existing or new terminals, giving passengers better or equal access to the check-in hall as well as curbside. The rebuilt station would be designed to accommodate longer trainsets and to facilitate one-seat ride service to the central business district (CBD).
  • Create an express one-seat ride to Manhattan instead of extending the existing AirTrain. The new airport service would be an outgrowth of RPA’s regional rail plan. The Rockaway Beach Branch would be reactivated for passenger service from Atlantic Avenue, where it would connect to the new regional rail line at Howard Beach with two dedicated tracks for the airport service. The new airport express service would provide a quick one-seat ride from Midtown Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, and Downtown Brooklyn to JFK utilizing a new East River crossing. There would be at least four trains per hour with an average wait time of seven minutes.
  • Protect JFK from storm surges: Unlike LaGuardia and Newark airports, JFK Airport is not significantly affected by sea-level rise, although the entire airport is vulnerable to flooding and therefore requires protection from storm surges.
  • Strengthen connections between JFK and downtown Jamaica: Downtown Jamaica should be redeveloped in tandem with the airport. In particular, hotels and other hospitality services should be located downtown, preserving on-airport capacity for terminals, runways, and freight facilities.
  • Protect and restore Jamaica Bay: Given the environmental impact of constructing one or two new runways into Jamaica Bay, various mitigation measures should be implemented by the Port Authority. First, every acre of habitat affected by the construction of runways should be restored elsewhere throughout the bay. Emphasis should be placed on restoring the salt marshes and maritime forests, as well as filling the holes made by excavations and restoring other bird sanctuaries away from flight paths. Further, the Port Authority should establish a Jamaica Bay Restoration & Resilience Mitigation Fund that will serve to fund research, restoration, and adaptation efforts to make Jamaica Bay and its communities more resilient. The fund could be managed in cooperation with a group such as the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay or the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program. Funds could be raised out of the Port Authority’s general budget or a dedicated per-flight user fee. Further, the Port Authority should ensure the airport is among the most sustainable in the world, from including green infrastructure to carbon offsetting programs.