Big changes coming to Newark airport

Everything you need to know about the big changes coming to Newark airport

In the fall, the federal government will lift the cap on the number of hourly takeoffs and landings at Newark-Liberty International Airport.

The reclassification, from a Level 3 airport to a Level 2 facility, will open up Newark to more carriers — potentially low-cost airlines — that were previously kept out by Newark’s flight restrictions.

JetBlue has already jumped onboard, announcing Thursday it would add six roundtrip flights to Florida, and others may soon follow suit.

But what will it mean for fliers? Cheaper fares? More flight options? Or could it lead to longer lines and departure delays?

First, it’s important to understand what the changes mean.

What are airport levels?

Airlines pay for takeoff and landing slots at airports. The guidelines for allocating those slots are set by an organization called the International Air Transport Association, a trade group made up of about 260 airlines.

The IATA breaks down airport designations like this in its Worldwide Slot Guidelines:

Level 1: Airports where the capacity of the airport infrastructure is generally adequate to meet the demands of airport users at all times.
Level 2: Airports where there is potential for congestion during some periods of the day, week, or season which can be resolved by schedule adjustments mutually agreed between the airlines and facilitator. A facilitator is appointed to facilitate the planned operations of airlines using or planning to use the airport.
Level 3: Airports where capacity providers have not developed sufficient infrastructure, or where governments have imposed conditions that make it impossible to meet demand. A coordinator is appointed to allocate slots to airlines and other aircraft operators using or planning to use the airport as a means of managing the declared capacity.

Newark was a Level 3 airport and was restricted to 81 slots per hour. It’s moving to a Level 2 in the fall, meaning those restrictions will be lifted.

Other Level 2 airports in the United States are located in Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando and San Francisco.

Will ticket prices drop?

The FAA says so.

Officials say they believe the reclassification will increase competition at the airport, where United accounts for more than 70 percent of flights.

While JetBlue didn’t specify pricing for its added flights, its vice president of network planning, Dave Clark, said the airlines will bring “more choice and more lower fares” to Newark.

“This will be very good for New Jersey,” he said.

“Lifting arbitrary slot restrictions means greater competition at our airports and lower prices for passengers,” said Joe Sitt of Global Gateway Alliance, an advocacy group.

But Douglas Kidd, executive director at the National Association of Airline Passengers, disagrees.

“It remains to be seen what effect, if any, increased competition will have on ticket prices,” said Kidd. “The real benefit to passengers, I expect, will be a great choice of flights and destinations, as United apparently has not made the fullest use of the slots they have. ”

In addition to JetBlue, two low-cost carriers, Spirit and Alaska airlines, have both told NJ Advance Media that they are considering putting in for additional service at Newark.

What about the lines?

Experts say that it may take longer to get through security, but the TSA remains optimistic.

In March, the TSA told fliers to make sure they arrive two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight because officials expected delays. Since then, there have a been a number of reports of screening lines snaking through terminals, causing longer than normal wait times.

“It’s still six months out and we will work closely with airlines and partners to prepare,” said Mike McCarthy, a spokesman for the TSA.

A behind the scenes look at United Airlines located in Terminal C, Newark Liberty International Airport. Newark, NJ 7/29/15 (Robert Sciarrino | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Passenger advocacy groups aren’t as optimistic.

Paul Hudson, the president of FlyersRights.org, the largest airline passenger advocacy group in the country, told NJ Advance Media “there’s going be delays.”

“There’s only so much in the [TSA] budget and people available,” he said.

“There is room for increased capacity, but the FAA and TSA have to make smart decisions so delays and security lines don’t get even worse,” said Sitt said, of Global Gateway Alliance.

Will there be more flight delays?

Possibly, according to experts.

The reclassification will remove the current cap of 81 flights per hour at Newark, which was put in place in 2008 to decrease delays, an issue the FAA said the airport has improved.

Global Gateway Alliance calls these caps arbitrary and wants to remove them from LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports as well, though Hudson said “delays will probably get worse.”

“The risk is that were going to have more congestion [in air],” Hudson said. Hudson said that the airlines should utilize larger planes and reduce the number of flights.

The New York City skies are a “big bottleneck” for flights, he said.

The FAA hasn’t said what increase in flights per hour, if any, it expects after the reclassification. Air travel rose 5 percent year-over-year in 2015.

What about the noise and pollution?

“More volume equates to more noise and pollution,” Rover Belzer of the NJ Coalition Against Aircraft Noise. “We expect more noise because of the designation.”

The FAA expects an increase in pollution, but said it will have limited effect on the environment.

Belzer, who has also asked for details from the FAA on expected volume, told NJ Advance Media that the amount of noise and pollution will ultimately depend on the total number of flights at the airport.

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