• Limits on flights remain in place at New York LaGuardia, JFK
  • Airlines can seek to add service at Newark, agency says

Regulators eased a cap on flights at Newark Liberty International Airport, allowing carriers to apply for new service for the first time since heavy delays forced the U.S. government to limit operations there in 2008.

The Federal Aviation Administration will consider allowing additional flights at the New Jersey airport as long as they don’t exceed capacity, according to an order posted online Friday.

“This change will improve access to some of the most in-demand airspace in the country,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement.

The FAA stopped short of fully lifting controls at Newark, saying high demand for flights into the New York region could once again trigger a spike in delays if not carefully managed. Flight caps will remain in place at New York’s LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports, the agency said.

‘Scarce’ Capacity

The FAA action, which takes affect Oct. 30, “will mean more efficient use of scarce airfield capacity at Newark,” according to a statement by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees New York-area airports. “This action will help travelers by increasing competition and choices at Newark Liberty by allowing more flights by different airlines, thereby helping to reduce air fares.”

More than 35.6 million passengers flew on commercial flights at Newark in 2014, according to the latest figures available from the Airports Council International. That made it the 16th busiest airport in North America.

“We will continue to work with the FAA, which recognizes this decision may cause further inconvenience to customers flying to and from Newark, along with the Port Authority and others, to minimize delays,” United, the largest carrier at Newark, said by e-mail. Delta didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment. American Airlines Group Inc. said it was reviewing the order.

The FAA in 2008 limited the number of flights at Newark to 81 an hour, a level it said was the most its runways could handle. More recent reviews, however, showed that demand fell below that level routinely, even during the busiest periods of the day, the agency said Friday. There also have been “significant improvements” in on-time performance and delays during peak flight times at the airport, according to the FAA.

Impact Unclear

It was unclear how big an impact the FAA order would have on Newark’s operations, said Brian Campbell, a consultant specializing in scheduling at Campbell-Hill Aviation Group in Arlington, Virginia.

“I don’t think there’s a lot to play with before serious delay problems would return,” he said.

Competition for flights at such so-called slot-controlled airports is high and last year triggered a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit seeking to block United Continental Holdings Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. from trying to swap flying rights at Newark and another airport.

The suit said the plan over 24 takeoff and landing slots at Newark would increase United’s already dominant position at the airport, hurting the ability of other carriers to compete and raising prices for passengers. The Justice Department is reviewing Friday’s notice and wasn’t prepared to comment about its potential impact on the lawsuit, said Mark Abueg, a spokesman.

United’s hub at Newark Liberty International is a gateway for overseas flights for the world’s third-biggest carrier. United had 48 percent of passengers at Newark last year, not counting flights made by regional partners, according to data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

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