Wednesday 21 March 2018

'Third World' LaGuardia poised for jet set makeover

Passengers manoeuvre through one of the cramped hallways at New York's LaGuardia Airport (AP)
Passengers manoeuvre through one of the cramped hallways at New York's LaGuardia Airport (AP)

An ambitious plan to rebuild New York's LaGuardia Airport has been unveiled, a year after US v ice president Joe Biden compared it to "some Third World country".

The ageing terminals will be converted into a modern, unified hub while easing congestion by doubling the space available for planes to operate.

"I wish everything I said that was truthful but controversial would turn out this well," Mr Biden joked, making the announcement with New York governor Andrew Cuomo.

The overhaul will remake the entire footprint of the airport, which is shoehorned on to a small, oddly-shaped waterfront property.

Its existing, cramped and chaotic buildings would be demolished and replaced with a big new terminal 600 feet closer to the highway that rings the airport like a moat.

That shift would relieve some of the space constraints for aircraft trying to taxi to and from the congested gate areas. More space would be made by having passengers get to their gates using elevated passageways that pass over active taxiways. In all, nearly two miles of new taxiways would be created.

The first phase of the project will begin next year, pending final approval by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the airport. The second phase will be overseen by Delta Air Lines.

The first remade portions of the airport will open to passengers in 2019.

"This is what New Yorkers deserve and have deserved for a long time. And now we're going to get it," Mr Cuomo said.

He said the current airport was a collection of cramped terminals with high volume and low ceilings, and "un-New York".

"It's slow, it's dated, it has a terrible front-door entrance way to New York," he said.

Mr Biden, who said last year that if he blindfolded someone and took him to LaGuardia, he would think he was in "some Third World country", praised Mr Cuomo for "thinking big".

The vice president's influence was critical, Mr Cuomo said - approvals that would normally take years were expedited by Mr Biden's office.

The first phase of the plan will cost four billion dollars (£2.6bn), half from private funding, Mr Cuomo said. Delta Air Lines is a partner in the new terminal.

The new airport is part of a plan aimed at four of the state's airports in the New York metropolitan area. Stewart Airport north of the city and Republic Airport on Long Island would both get Startup New York designation, offering new and expanding businesses to operate tax free for 10 years.

New York City's John F Kennedy Airport will also have its architecturally-distinct Eero Saarinen terminal building reconfigured into a hotel.

The project will add thousands of jobs and help grow tourism and commerce. Officials said it would triple the screening space, increase concession space and create better connections between terminals, a new roadway system and new parking garages.

"LaGuardia and JFK are economic anchors for this city, and they deserve to be the best in the world," Mr Biden said.

LaGuardia, along the Flushing and Bowery bays in northern Queens, is the closest of the New York area's three major air hubs to midtown Manhattan - just eight miles - and it handled about 27 million passengers last year.

Often the first building travellers see is the sprawling, boomerang-shaped Central Terminal, which opened just in time to receive visitors to the 1964 World's Fair.

Passengers immediately encounter low ceilings and dimly-lit narrow hallways. Check-in kiosks are arrayed haphazardly in rows just inside the entrances, where bright green neon lights blare "Welcome to LaGuardia Airport". On the west side of the terminal sits a modest food court featuring a hamburger counter, a pizzeria and a Dunkin' Donuts.

In 2012, Travel and Leisure magazine named LaGuardia the nation's worst airport, saying it had the "dubious honour of ranking the worst for the check-in and security process, the worst for baggage handling, the worst when it comes to providing wi-fi, the worst at staff communication, and the worst design and cleanliness".

Press Association

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