Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Lack of Foresight at LaGuardia

While this post isn't exactly transit related, broader planning practices on major North American infrastructure projects provide valuable context. LaGuardia Airport is the dominant short haul airport in the New York area. Its existing Central Terminal Building was completed in 1964 and is both dilapidated and severely overcrowded. After many years of discussion, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has decided to build the long-overdue replacement. The details are discussed in the project briefing book, but one element stands out as potentially problematic.  The large majority of gates in the new terminal building are designed for Boeing 737/Airbus A320-sized narrowbody aircraft, which along with regional jets make up the overwhelming majority of short haul flights in North America.

In the 1970s, however, far larger aircraft were used on short-haul routes, and the widebody DC-10 was designed specifically to fit at LaGuardia. In order to permit airlines to operate some larger aircraft, planners chose to design a handful of gates for Aircraft Design Group IV, which includes the Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft that airlines might choose to operate. So far, so good. The problem is that no Group IV aircraft has been designed in decades. The Boeing 757 and 767 are no longer being produced for airlines and their replacements, such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A330, have considerably longer wingspans, causing them to be categorized in Design Group V. By the time the LaGuardia Airport expansion is complete, there aren’t likely to be many Design Group IV aircraft operating, and those that are will be fast approaching retirement. These gates will be essentially useless the day they open, as the larger aircraft for which they were intended will not fit and smaller aircraft will be able to use the other Group III gates. While this problem will hopefully be caught by the time detailed plans are drawn, it is not a particularly auspicious sign for the success of the project, and is perhaps a sign of why so many large infrastructure projects require costly mid-construction re-designs.


  1. Allegiant's fleet is a bunch of MD-80s, what catagory do those fall into?

  2. They're narrowbodies like the 737 and A320.