Air Transport World

A facelift at 50

New York JFK is finally getting the attention the premier U.S. gateway deserves

NEW YORK--The golden anniversary of its opening finds John F. Kennedy International Airport in need of attention to check a long, slow decline of stature and status. A revitalization is under way that authorities hope will recapture the buoyant days of its youth and stave off the lingering headache of advancing middle age.

Kennedy's headache began more than a decade ago, when liberalized bilaterals and deregulation meant carriers could use a new generation of long-range aircraft and twinjets to open a slew of new international gateways on both coasts and in the heartland, bypassing JFK and robbing it of revenue just as long-in-the-tooth facilities began to show their age.

Idlewild, as it was named before redesignation in December, 1963, was leased by the city of New York to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1947. The first commercial flights began in July, 1948. In 1949, the first full year of operation by the PA, Idlewild handled the impressive--at that time--total of 222,620 passengers. By 1965, it already had exceeded its design capacity of 15 million passengers a year, with 16.2 million handled. Last year, the figure was 31.4 million, of whom 17.4 million were international.

Idlewild's designers had planned a state-of-the-art airport capable of dealing with their then wildly optimistic" forecast of 15 million by the turn of the century. At the time of the forecasts, ocean liners were carrying most transatlantic traffic. The planners pioneered the concept of free-standing, individual terminals for the major airlines.

These were to be supplemented by an expansive International Arrivals building housing the remaining airlines, Customs and Immigration operations, and shops. All were served by a common circumferential road system.

This made sense at the time. But as traffic grew and grew, so did congestion on the airport's roadways and the highways feeding the airport. Passenger cars, taxis, off-airport buses and limousines, as well as on-airport courtesy buses and vans found themselves crawling through bottlenecks and massive traffic jams.

What was to be done? In 1987, the Port Authority announced its "JFK 2000" plan. This was an ambitious $4.5 billion makeover that would make the airport more user-friendly while enabling it to handle 45 million passengers a year by the turn of the century.

Major features of JFK 2000 were:

* A huge new central terminal and ticketing facility for all arriving and departing passengers and vehicles. …

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