La Guardia Airport: Better to Close It?

Wall Street Journal printed an article slanted toward generating public support for a multi-billion dollar redevelopment of the La Guardia Airport [KLGA] terminal by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey. A scrollable PDF copy is posted below, but first here are the musings of a retired airline pilot, very familiar with this airport, and also familiar with the huge airport noise impacts that are not even mentioned in Scott McCartney’s WSJ article:

“Probably the truest statement in the entire article is the one where it states that things are going to get worse before better. What the PA and the city should do is find another airport location, let people endure LGA the way it is during that process and then close LGA down, completely. Of course the problem with doing that is finding another location. The first that comes into my mind is Floyd Bennett field, but that is very close to JFK. Or, I don’t know how large Riker’s Island is, but there has been talk of closing that down (maybe this is the infamous “trial balloon being floated?).

Another problem that isn’t even mentioned is that LGA is rapidly sinking, probably because it was originally built on a garbage dump. I vividly recall when I flew out of there walking (when you could do that) from the airline hangar (the Delta, American Shuttle terminal now), to the main terminal and noticing how much lower the curbs and tarmac were alongside the hangars. It was obvious back then that the entire airport was slowly sinking. And, none of that is even mentioned in anything I have read about “fixing” the airport. What is going to happen to this “upgrade” to resolve that potentially-huge problem? Then, of course, there is no mention of bringing mass transit in the form of a subway line to LGA. Every major airport that I have been to in Europe has a subway line that takes you directly to and from the airport with ease. This is probably due to the taxicab industry lobbying against it in NYC.

A lot of this story seems to me to be “pie in the sky,” wishful thinking on the part of the PA and their buddies that are going to be doing the work there. Where were the PA when needed repairs were never made? Why were they never made? Those pertinent questions have all been conveniently overlooked, with no truthful answers forthcoming. All they do is keep their grubby hands in residents’ pockets with their ridiculously high tolls on bridges and tunnels.

Where does all their money go? These are questions that the governors of NY and NJ should be asking, but aren’t. Why not?”

Click on the image below for a scrollable view; the PDF file may be downloaded.

There is also the issue of La Guardia’s horrible access. This airport is surrounded by dense urban residential development, and real estate is expensive and limited. Unbelievably, most people from places like Manhattan have to further congest the crowded streets with a cab-ride to/from the airport. An obvious fix would be to add a rail link, a proposal that has been pushed for decades, but with no real forward progress. And, too, the transit line it would connect to, the No. 7 line, is already maxed out.

NYC is a great city and should be proudly shared with the world as a beacon of the American exceptionalism so many politicians often cite during their campaigns. The many failures at La Guardia – by the FAA that refuses to manage capacity, and the local officials and labor unions that impede problem-solving – are instead a grand American embarrassment. This area is sclerotic with too much overdevelopment driven by pols who trade building permits for kickbacks (aka campaign and PAC donations). The status quo is broken.

There is a clear need to look into all the possibilities for KLGA before this renovation gets underway. One of the most ‘exceptional’ possibilities is to actually downscale the airport, even close it entirely. We all know that, once the project starts, the argument will become that they don’t want to waste the money that has already been spent. For everyone’s benefit, we need a long-term, viable solution – especially to provide relief for noise-impacted residents – and that solution will likely include:

  • use of technologies to carefully minimize noise and other adverse impacts
  • for both noise reduction and to ensure KLGA does not create delays that cascade through  the NAS, impose a substantial reduction of hourly operations, to a strict limit of perhaps 20-30 departures per hour.
  • impose schedule management methodologies that ensure this critically located airport is used solely to serve passengers into and out of New York City, and ensures the airlines are NOT using KLGA as a hub for the profitable sorting of through-passengers.
  • manage airline use of the NYC-area airports using a larger ‘system-view’ that disperses impacts, ensuring that no single communities are excessively impacted with noise and other aviation pollutants.

See also:
  • 3/31/2016Press Release: Meng Urges Key Congressional Committee to Do Everything in Its Power to Combat Airplane Noise over Queens
  • 5/24/2015‘A Matter of Trust’
  • 5/8/2015‘Don’t Rehab La Guardia Airport. Close It.’
  • 8/16/2014 ‘Florida Airports are Particularly Vulnerable to Sea Level Rise’ … and given the low elevation at KLGA, money invested will soon be wasted due to global warming and polar ice melting. This airport did flood during Hurricane Sandy.
  • September 2012‘An Aerial View of Flushing While on the Whitestone Climb’
  • 4/29/2004La Guardia Slot Allocation – A Clock-Proxy Auction Approach
  • April 2001‘La Guardia Airport: Can the Airport and the Community Coexist?’