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Steve,

From your quote: “We’ve been told at Newark that we can’t get in, and we’ve been told at J.F.K. that we can’t expand,” David Cush, Virgin America’s chief executive, said, referring to negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration, which has limited flight operations at both airports to ease delays.

The problem at New York's Idlewild Field (JFK) is not strictly one of capacity, but rather one of availability of slots during a window of peak demand when the majority of flights to and from Europe depart and arrive. JetBlue has had no trouble getting slots there.

But here, the issue is considerably more complex. The use of smaller aircraft on European routes has allowed Delta offer nonstop service to several European destinations from Boston's Logan International Airport (BOS) and probably also from several other major eastern cities, resulting in fewer passengers going to JFK to connect. Some of these flights may be operated by Delta's SkyTeam partners, but the effect is the same: they are still sold as Delta flights and Delta's frequent fliers get all of their frequent flier credits and perks.

I'm less familiar with the situation at Newark, as I don't fly United, but it probably is similar.

But having said that, why would an airline seek to expand in an airport that's already far too overcrowded with competitors and face the disruptions to its operations that such situations entail? In past decades, I have been on flights that spent a couple hours in the queue waiting to take off after leaving the gate as it crawled to the active runway. Such queues are not cheap to the airline -- the aircraft is burning fuel and the crew is on "flight pay" (computed "chock to chock"). If I were an airline CEO or COO looking to grow service between the United States and Europe, I would be looking for an airport with plenty of unused capacity and plenty of room to build a new international terminal and, if necessary, to add additional runways. Off the top of my head, Bangor International Airport (BGR) in Bangor, Maine, and Portsmouth International Airport (PGM) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, both of which were formerly Air Force bases and thus have very long runways, probably would be viable options.

Moving to larger aircraft, like 78s instead of 73s and 77s instead of 78s would ease impending shortages of both pilots and landing slots. by carrying the same number of people in fewer aircraft.

That math may seem obvious, but it is not exactly clear. The operation of smaller aircraft on international routes allows airlines to add more gateways to foreign destinations, allowing a reduction of connecting flights into an overcrowded gateway.

Norm.
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