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JFK Airport runway reopens

Port Authority administrators said no one believed them when they promised four months ago that they would be able to complete the crux of the bay runway renovation at Kennedy Airport on schedule, but with hard work and careful planning they were able to meet their goal with time to spare.

Flights began taking off from the 14,572-foot runway Monday night after it was shut down for the upgrade, which Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward said would make flights run more efficiently with fewer delays. The nearly $350 million construction, which began in March and ended three days ahead of schedule, widened the runway and installed new technology to handle the increased load of planes that come into the airport.

“It’s replacing the largest runway at Kennedy, so it was vital to replace first,” Ward said.

The runway, which handles a third of the airport’s flights, now has an increased width of 50 feet and is made out of concrete instead of asphalt. The changes will allow larger aircraft to land, taxi and take off from JFK, which in turn will enable more passengers to fly into New York without having additional traffic, according to Ward.

In addition, the runway is equipped with a special taxi system that allows planes to get onto the runway using a new system that does not require the aircraft to wait in what Ward called “conga lines.”

“By reducing that amount of waiting, customers ... are hitting the runway faster,” he said.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey said it received a lot of complaints from the airlines and passengers about the project prior to its start, but the authority spent three years of planning to make sure no one was inconvenienced. The PA worked with the airlines to plan the construction during its off-peak flight times and created a new software system to direct flights in a methodical manner.

Although the runway is expected to bring in up to 35 percent more traffic, the Federal Aviation Administration said flight delays of 15 minutes or more were down 6 percent from the same time last year.

“That doesn’t happen without people doing a lot of work,” FAA Regional Administrator Carmine Gallo said.

Ward also praised his construction teams for their swift work, especially since a lot of the initial groundwork was being done during rough weather at the end of winter.

“The public is so skeptical of public agencies being on time,” he said. “The Port Authority did it on time and on budget.”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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