It's not easy to rise above the traffic-clogged byways of the New Jersey/New York metropolitan region. For the third time in four years, Newark Liberty International Airport has the nation's worst on-time arrivals record and the second-worst in departures.
The airport owner says the delays are not the airport's fault. Blaming the airport would be like holding your driveway responsible for a slow commute home, says a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
"Shared airspace between Newark, Kennedy and LaGuardia is the most congested airspace on the planet," said airport spokesman Mark Lavorgna. "You have three major airports in a 25-mile radius."
To relieve some of this pressure, the Port Authority recently purchased an airport it expects to turn into the region's fourth major airport.
And the Federal Aviation Administration has been working on a plan since 1998 to make regional air traffic more efficient. But the agency has to determine how each change would affect every person, plant or animal below.
And there's another culprit, says air traffic controller Russ Hallerin: While the FAA dictates how often flights can take off and land, the airlines can list their departures any time they want.
Hallerin says airlines schedule dozens of planes to leave at the same time although Newark has only three runways.
"We normally have 50 to 60 departures in the morning at 9 a.m. Do the math: 9 o'clock, 50-60 airplanes," said Hallerin, who is also president of his local air traffic controllers' union. "We're going to have delays for departures. Our airport is run on such a tight basis that if one thing goes wrong, the airport is backed up for the day. It's just too much traffic in too small an airspace."
Hallerin says the creation of another major airport on Long Island will help, but it's likely to fall prey to same fate of many New Jersey highways — by the time it's built, it won't be big enough to handle the traffic.