Takeoff queues at JFK will get shorter, beginning this weekend

Nov 15, 2019

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The third-longest runway at New York’s JFK airport will reopen this weekend after seven months of reconstruction costing $355 million. The runway handles roughly one-third of all arrivals into JFK, so this means a major easing of air-traffic congestion at the busiest airport in the U.S. by international traffic.

What’s more, runway 13L/31R will reopen right on schedule on Saturday, according to an email from a spokesperson at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK as well as LaGuardia and Newark airports.

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The runway, 10,000 feet long, has been repaved and widened by 33%, and has had new lights, signs and navigational aids installed. It’s mostly used for landings. The new pavement is concrete, replacing asphalt, which will result in a longer operational life of up to 40 years instead of 8 to 12 for asphalt, according to the Port Authority.

Runway 13L/31R runs along the length of the arrow in the image below. Most landings on it occur towards the northwest, in the direction of the arrow, towards 310 degrees on the compass. Its numbering does not mean that there are 31 runways at JFK, which has in fact four. It means that it is oriented towards 310 degrees at one end, and 130 on the other. JFK has two sets of two parallel runways, with the L and R letters indicating which one of two runways with the same orientation is on the left and which on on the right.

In the image below, runway 13L/31R appears dark, since it was still paved with asphalt at the time the satellite took the shot. Two of the four runways are already paved in concrete, which looks lighter, leaving only one runway to be repaved. The Port Authority has not announced when that project might be scheduled.

When landings on 13L/31R occur in the opposite direction from the usual, they follow an approach path known to pilots as the “Canarsie Approach,” involving a steep turn at low altitude over the Brooklyn neighborhood of that name. It’s one of the more challenging approaches to a major commercial airport in the U.S. — you can read more for a technical analysis of the reasons.

Turning to align with JFK's runway 13L at the end of a "Canarsie Approach" (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)
Turning to align with JFK’s runway 13L at the end of a “Canarsie Approach” (Photo by Alberto Riva/TPG)

To see takeoff queues actually get shorter, though, flyers may have to wait until Sunday. According to an official at the Port Authority, the expected direction of the wind on Saturday will preclude use of the two parallel 13/31 runways, since airplanes take off and land into the wind.

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