The impacts of changing flight demands and throughput performance on airport delays through the Great Recession

Several significant events between 2007 and 2009 impacted flight demands and the abilities of the three major New York area airports to handle demand. This paper assesses the results of applying a probabilistic simulation method – which isolates the individual contributions of changes in flight demand and changes in airport throughput performance to changes in flight delays – to diagnose how these different events may have caused operational changes at these airports, and in turn, how the results may be used to inform policies for appropriate countermeasures. The analysis revealed two key observations. Firstly, certain patterns in throughput performance shifts caused the most significant delays, and were more likely to have been caused by controller staffing issues rather than caps. Secondly, relatively constant average delays from one year to the next may result from significant demand drops accompanied by large throughput performance degradations at an airport. This suggests that not only operational limitations on capacity encourage airlines to reduce schedules, but that changed demands can also impact throughput performance. Overall, the analysis indicates that caps may not have provided their fully intended delay benefits. Although they successfully reduced overall flight demands at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and John F Kennedy Airport (JFK), they also directly limited throughput performance at critical times, in turn limiting delay benefits. In addition, demands at the busiest times of the day appear to be relatively inelastic to these operational limitations, insofar as demand profiles at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) and JFK remained “peaky” in 2008 and 2009. Also, the recession was largely responsible for reducing demands at the airports in 2009, but the delay benefits of this were dampened by a corresponding throughput performance degradation. Based on the above observations, a more direct demand management policy combined with policies that focus on maintaining high staffing capabilities at critical times of the day may be considered, to reduce the likelihood of major queue formation on days that do experience sustained demands. The results also suggest that a more flexible caps system, particularly during times of heavy queues, could be explored. Although airport practitioners have keen understandings of how their airports operate, without the support of quantitative analysis tools, it can be more difficult to argue the need for appropriate countermeasures. An analysis such as the one presented here can provide the detailed quantitative substantiation required to build cases for these targeted policy directives and infrastructure investments.


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  • Accession Number: 01597597
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Mar 28 2016 10:31AM