Box 2 Spotlight on Two of America's International Air Gateways: John F. Kennedy International and Los Angeles International

Box 2
Spotlight on Two of America's International Air Gateways: John F. Kennedy International and Los Angeles International

Two of America's top international gateways, the John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), handled over 35 million international inbound and outbound passengers in 2000. Nearly one in four U.S. international trips passed through these two airports (see box 2). Effectively addressing security threats while continuing to serve the large number of passengers moving through these and other U.S. international airports is one key challenge.

JFK Airport

JFK (called Idlewild Airport until 1964) opened as New York's first international airport in 1948. Having longer runways than LaGuardia airport, Idlewild enabled propeller aircraft of those days to carry enough fuel for transatlantic flights. In 1957, the airport added a terminal serving foreign-flag carriers and handling international passengers arriving on all airlines. Today, this newly renovated facility is a huge complex with three gates that will be able to handle the world's largest civilian aircraft, called "super-jumbos," which will be in service in the next several years. These aircraft are larger than the Boeing 767, have a travel range of 7,500 nautical miles, and can carry 600 passengers on two decks.

During the past decade, international passenger traffic at JFK grew at an average annual rate of 2 percent. In 2000, the airport handled on average nearly 50,000 international passengers each day, traveling on over 80 U.S. and foreign airlines from more than 50 countries [1]. Four of the top 20 U.S. international airport pair gateways involve JFK. In 2000, JFK-London Heathrow was the leading U.S. international airport pair with over 2.9 million passengers (see table 11). JFK-Paris, JFK-Frankfurt, and JFK-Tokyo were the others.

Since 1995, JFK airport has offered U.S. frequent travelers U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service electronic identity verification cards (INSPASS) to speed the massive flow of international passenger traffic through the airport more efficiently.1 INSPASS reduces the amount of time it takes to get through immigration clearance by verifying identities electronically. Travelers insert their cards at the INSPASS kiosk and place their hands on an electronic reader. Their identity is automatically verified and they are sent on their way to baggage claims and Customs.2 INSPASS can get travelers through immigration in as little as 15 seconds compared with an average of up to 5 minutes with an immigration inspector. Immediately after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the INSPASS program was suspended but has since been restored.

JFK's ability to handle growing demand is based primarily on its current airfield capacity (number and placement of runways and taxiways, types of navigational aid, and types of air traffic control and facilities). Other factors such as airline scheduling, aircraft performance, the mix of aircraft types, weather, and runway closures affect how much of the airport's capacity can be used at a given time and results in variability in capacity [2]. In 2000, JFK had an hourly arrival rate of 56 flights (domestic and international) and an hourly departure rate of 50 flights for a combined total of 82 flight operations per hour.3 The airport's current capacity benchmark is 88 to 89 flights per hour in good weather and 71 flights per hour in adverse weather conditions, including poor visibility, unfavorable winds, and heavy precipitation. Variability in airport capacity, when combined with the pattern of aircraft demand and scheduling, can result in airport congestion, typically leading to the formation of queues waiting for permission to land or takeoff. Congestion eventually results in passenger delay. On a typical day, when demand approaches or exceeds capacity for extended periods of time, any disruption can create persistent backlogs and delays.

Continued growth in passenger traffic is expected at JFK. In the near term, there are no plans for constructing additional runways to increase the physical airfield capacity. However, there are plans to improve operational efficiency for both good and adverse weather capacity by changing arrival and departure procedures, deploying advanced technology, and restructuring airspace to improve and provide more efficient air routes.

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, JFK has upgraded its security. Immediately after the attacks, the airport enforced new procedures that permit only ticket holders past airport security checkpoints. Since then, all passengers are also required to check in and get boarding passes before proceeding to the gates. Like other highvolume airports, security breaches are a significant concern. Because of the heightened security alert, a variety of situations ranging from forgotten purses to unattended boxes and luggage have triggered terminal closures for a number of hours. In November 2001, the airport closed for several hours after American Airlines Flight 587 from JFK to the Dominican Republic crashed in Queens, New York. Initially, terrorism was suspected, but was later ruled out.

Los Angeles International Airport

The site of the Los Angeles International Airport (originally known as Mines Field) has been used for general aviation since 1928. Prior to the construction of the municipal airport, pioneer aviators used part of the site as a makeshift landing strip where the aircraft of that time landed and departed on rough ground. Commercial airline service started in 1946 and the present terminal complex was constructed in 1961. The airport added the Tom Bradley International Terminal in 1984. This 963,000 square foot terminal has 11 aircraft gates and 18 gates served by buses that shuttle passengers from the terminal to remote aircraft parking pads.

In 2000, LAX handled nearly 17 million international passengers, about 25 percent of the total number of passengers using the airport. These inter.national passengers traveled on U.S. airlines and over 50 foreign carriers between the United States and more than 40 countries. During the past decade, international passenger traffic through LAX has grown at an average annual rate of over 7 percent per year. Of the top 20 U.S. international airport pair gateways, 6 included LAX in 2000. The leading gateway pair was LAX-Tokyo with 1.7 million international passengers, followed by LAX-London Heathrow and LAX-Taipei, Taiwan. LAX, like JFK, also offers the INSPASS identification processing service to reduce the time it takes travelers to go through immigration clearance.

On average, there were about 81 departures and 83 arrivals per hour at LAX, for a combined total of 145 flight operations per hour in 2000. The airport's current capacity benchmark is 148 to 150 flights per hour in good weather and about 127 per hour under adverse conditions. Like JFK, LAX plans to use improvements in landing and takeoff procedures and deployment of advanced technology to increase capacity, mitigate airport congestion, and reduce passenger delays.

Following the September 11 attacks, LAX enforced new procedures to fulfill the requirements of the new Aviation and Transportation Security Act.4 One of the key procedures requires that all passengers pick up a paper ticket before proceeding to the security screening stations, because only ticketed passengers are allowed past these points. Also, all passengers must have a photo identification card. Immediately after the attacks, the airport canceled curbside luggage check-in but has since resumed it.

1 Three other U.S. international and two Canadian airports offer the INSPASS service: Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Toronto, and Vancouver.
2 INSPASS is currently free and available to citizens of the United States, Canada, Bermuda, legal residents of the United States, and Visa Waiver Pilot program countries who take at least three international business trips per year.
3 Typically, total operations are less than the sum of hourly arrival and departure rates. The difference reflects runway configuration and use. While some runways allow more arrivals and others allow more departures, total operations reflect the number of arrivals and departures that can be handled simultaneously.
4 President George W. Bush signed this Act into law (Public Law 107-71) on Nov. 19, 2001.

SOURCES: JFK International Airport website, available at, as of Dec. 14, 2001.

U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Admin-istration, 2000 Aviation Capacity Enhancement Plan, December 2000, available at, as of Dec. 17, 2001.