National News

FAA to investigate Port Authority after winter storm meltdown at JFK airport

Posted January 16, 2018 10:03 p.m. EST

— The Federal Aviation Administration will investigate the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's actions at John F. Kennedy International Airport during a winter storm that left the airport with hundreds of delayed and canceled flights and stranded travelers.

The weather-related cancellations and delays stacked up after the winter storm began on Thursday, January 4, and the problems continued throughout the weekend. The airport was closed for several hours on Thursday and reopened Friday with some delays and cancellations.

Conditions worsened on Saturday, January 7, when what Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton described as "a serious breakdown" occurred between terminal operators and airlines. The two groups failed to communicate properly to ensure there were enough gates for all incoming and outgoing planes. Passengers reported being stuck on the tarmac for hours before they could deplane or their planes took off.

The FAA says it is investigating "to determine if the Port Authority was in compliance with Federal Aviation regulations which require prompt and timely removal of snow from all aircraft movement areas," according to a statement obtained by CNN.

The next day, a water main broke in Terminal 4, the major arrival point for international travelers, flooding it and causing it to close for several hours. Power was turned off in parts of the terminal, conveyer belts stopped working on some of the carousels, and the arrivals area was cordoned off while employees swept water off the floor. Weather is believed to have caused the break.

The Port Authority announced plans to conduct its own internal investigation on January 10, tapping former US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to lead the effort. LaHood plans to investigate "all phases of the event" including preparation ahead of the storm, recovery operations after the water main leak, and baggage handling, according to a Port Authority statement.

"The events that occurred at JFK Airport this month were completely unacceptable," Port Authority spokesperson Steve Coleman said in a statement. "We will completely cooperate with the FAA's inquiry."

The FAA has jurisdiction over commercial service airports, and the Port Authority runs John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, along with the other main New York City area airports, Newark Liberty International Airport and LaGuardia Airport.