Press Release Article


Date: Jan 18, 2018
Press Release Number: 17-2018

24/7 Emergency Ops Center Requiring Participation from Terminal Operators, Airline Representatives and Other Key Stakeholders Will Be Activated 12 Hours Prior to Any Significant Storm

New Protocols for Inbound Flights During and After Storms, Gate Availability, Mutual Aid, and Communications

Today Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton announced a series of interim measures at JFK Airport following the events stemming from the winter storm of Thursday, January 4. He also announced that former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood formally began his independent investigation into the causes of the various operational failures at the airport. The interim measures, developed from working groups with participation from all stakeholders at the airport, aim to immediately address factors that contributed to issues ranging from inbound international carrier traffic, gate availability and wait times, communication to passengers, ground equipment failures and baggage repatriation, among others.

“What happened at JFK, as we have emphasized over the past two weeks, was unacceptable and must not be allowed to happen again,” Cotton said. “The interim directives and protocols we are announcing today are critical initial steps to ensure improved operations in future storms. We look forward to reviewing Secretary LaHood’s findings and recommendations. We intend to act aggressively on Secretary LaHood’s ultimate report – both to address accountability for failures that occurred and to implement his recommendations to assure these failures never happen again.”

“We are beginning our investigation in earnest into the events at JFK Airport, and my team and I will exhaustively examine the evidence to identify the core causes of what went wrong,” Secretary LaHood said. “I want to thank the Port Authority for assuring us independence and the authority to pursue our investigation wherever it leads.”

The interim measures include the following:

  1. JFK Emergency Operations Center (EOC) – Prior to the start of any significant storm, JFK Airport will activate its Emergency Operations Center on the airport grounds. The EOC will operate on a 24/7 basis for the duration of any storm and all recovery operations. This will enable 1) the immediate sharing of information among key stakeholders including terminal operators and airlines about all relevant airport operations; and 2) informed, real-time decisions about airport operations to ensure the safe and efficient functioning of the airport during a storm and during the period of recovery. The EOC will further aim to provide an immediate, constant and consistent flow of accurate information to passengers and the public.

    The EOC requires mandatory participation from the following groups of the JFK Airport community: the general manager of the airport and any designated staff; each of the six JFK terminal operators; each of the three major domestic airlines (Delta, American Airlines and JetBlue) servicing JFK; the two major ground handling companies servicing the airport; additional airlines and ground handling companies as designated by terminal operators; a high-ranking executive officer of the Port Authority Police Department; and senior public information officers from the Port Authority, terminal operators and airlines. International airlines will be represented through their terminal operators. International terminal operators in the EOC must have 24/7 direct access to senior executives at the operations centers of every international airline using their terminal.
  2. Mutual Aid –All JFK terminal operators, airlines and other key members of the airport community are being directed to commit to a mutual aid framework that will enable the expeditious provision of assistance from one entity to another during emergencies. This will include but not be limited to access to gates, staff, equipment and use of other facilities. All requests for mutual aid will be facilitated through the EOC.
  3. Communications to Passengers – The EOC will coordinate customer communications efforts. The EOC protocols will establish operating procedures designed to assure that terminal operators, their airline customers, as well as the Port Authority’s JFK staff are providing accurate, frequent and consistent communications to three distinct audiences: 1) The general public, including those planning to come to the airport; 2) Passengers in terminals; 3) Passengers on aircraft. Coordinated communications will include but not be limited to social media, terminal screens, terminal public address systems, and airline/terminal operator customer service personnel. The substance of these communications will emphasize but not be limited to the general status of arrivals and departures at the airport, gate arrival times, baggage arrival times, rebooking instructions, and baggage reclamation procedures.
  4. Inbound Traffic – During storm emergencies, when the EOC is activated the EOC will issue on an as-needed basis formal notifications to terminal operators to manage the rate of incoming flight activity with their airline customers. During the recovery time period following significant weather events, terminal operators will communicate to their airline customers that unscheduled flights as a result of cancellations or diversions require advance notification to the terminal operator prior to takeoff in order for the terminal operator to confirm gate availability. In the absence of this confirmation, the terminal operator should instruct their airline customer not to launch the flight.
  5. Gate Assignment and Wait Times – During storm emergencies, the EOC will coordinate with terminal operators to ensure that all inbound flights are assigned a gate based on the plane’s estimated on-block time no later than one hour prior to the plane’s scheduled landing. In any instance where the estimated on-block time is more than 90 minutes after estimated arrival time, terminal operators must consult the Port Authority to identify alternative compatible gate options elsewhere in the airport on a timely basis. If no compatible gates are available, the Port Authority and terminal operator will promptly determine if disembarking passengers at an un-gated position and busing them to a terminal is a more suitable option.
  6. Gate Availability – For situations in which an inactive aircraft is occupying a gate that needs to be made available for incoming flights, the terminal operator shall request the airline to relocate the aircraft. If the airline does not move its aircraft promptly, the Port Authority will empower terminal operators to compel the airline’s authorized ground handling contractor to move the aircraft off the gate.
  7. Baggage Repatriation – The Port Authority is directing airlines, terminal operators, ground handlers and baggage delivery companies to develop and implement near-term improvements to their baggage repatriation operations during and after a storm. Given the complexity of baggage handling operations, the Port Authority is also directing these stakeholders to collectively develop longer-term contingency plans and proposed standards for more rapid and effective repatriation of baggage separated from passengers as the result of cancelled or diverted flights during severe weather events. As part of the longer-term planning, all terminal operators must evaluate whether to create common-use baggage service organizations (with authority to charge back costs to airlines) if necessary to supplement airlines’ baggage repatriation capabilities.
  8. Ground Equipment – The Port Authority is directing all terminal operators and ground handlers to develop both near-term improvements and comprehensive longer-term plans to ensure that 1) ground handling equipment is well-maintained to operate during cold weather conditions, and 2) sufficient spare equipment is available to replace equipment that fails to operate due to cold weather conditions.
  9. Staffing – The Port Authority is directing all terminal operators, airlines and ground-handling contractors and their subcontractors to take immediate steps to ensure they have sufficient staffing in place to meet anticipated demand during severe weather events and to make longer-term recommendations that would address systemic staffing vulnerabilities. The Port Authority will also work with the Kennedy International Airport Airline Managers Committee to develop a plan to improve employee transportation options to JFK Airport during severe weather.
  10. Facility Inspections – The Port Authority is directing all terminal operators to complete inspections of all pipe and plumbing components within their facilities to ensure they are properly protected from winter weather conditions.

On January 10, the Port Authority announced that former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will lead an independent and comprehensive investigation into the events at JFK Airport during and following the winter storm of Thursday, January 4.

LaHood, who is currently a senior policy advisor at the global law firm DLA Piper, has assembled a team with independent resources and experts. They will examine all aspects of operations including but not limited to the performance of airlines, terminal operators and the Port Authority’s airport management. They will investigate all phases of the event.

LaHood expects to issue his findings and recommendations in a report to the Port Authority in the coming months. He will report any interim findings and recommendations as the investigation progresses.

About Secretary LaHood

Secretary LaHood served as the 16th Department of Transportation Secretary from 2009 to 2013.

His tenure was marked by landmark efforts to improve safety in every mode of transportation, from aviation and rail to pipelines and automobiles. Under his leadership, improvements to America’s infrastructure included building or replacing 350,000 miles of highway, repairing 20,000 bridges and renewing or constructing 6,000 miles of rail track. As Secretary of Transportation, he oversaw an agency with more than 55,000 employees and a $70 billion budget in charge of air, maritime and surface transportation.

Before heading the US Department of Transportation, Secretary LaHood served from 1995 to 2009 in the US House of Representatives as a Republican on behalf of the 18th District of Illinois and also served on various House committees. He served as chief of staff to US House Minority Leader Robert Michel from 1982 to 1994. He was director of the Rock Island County Youth Services Bureau from 1972 to 1974; chief planner of the Bi-States Metropolitan Planning Commission from 1974 to 1977; and district administrative assistant for US Congressman Tom Railsback from 1977 to 1982.

About Executive Director Cotton

Executive Director Rick Cotton, a former top executive at NBC Universal who most recently served as Governor Andrew Cuomo's Special Counsel for Interagency Initiatives, became the agency's new executive director in August 2017.

Since January 2015, Cotton has overseen most of Governor Cuomo’s major downstate infrastructure priorities including LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports, the Penn-Farley Complex, the new Tappan Zee Bridge and the expansion of the Javits Center. He joined the administration following 25 years at NBC Universal, where he held a number of positions beginning in 1989, including 20 years as Executive Vice President and General Counsel and four years in London as President and Managing Director of CNBC Europe. He also served as Executive Secretary to the Department at the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare under Secretary Joseph A. Califano, Jr. and Special Assistant for Renewable Energy to Deputy Secretary of Energy John Sawhill at the U.S. Department of Energy.

About Aviation Director Lawrence

Huntley A. Lawrence, a 33-year veteran of The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who became Director of Aviation in January 2017, is responsible for managing one of the world’s largest airport systems with revenues of $2.4 billion and a staff of over 1,500 aviation professionals. Prior to becoming director, Huntley served as Deputy Director of Aviation, a role he had held since May 2014.

Beginning his Port Authority career in Airport Operations, Huntley held positions of increasing responsibility at LaGuardia, Newark Liberty International (EWR) and JFK International airports.

In 2006, Huntley became Senior Manager, Security and Technology for the Port Authority Aviation Department. In this assignment, he developed the Aviation Security Business Plan, managed the Department’s $200 million Security Capital Plan, and coordinated security policy for the Port Authority’s five airports. In 2007, he returned to EWR as Deputy General Manager, New Jersey Airports, a position he held until he was appointed General Manager, New Jersey Airports in October 2011.

He is Vice Chairman of the American Association of Airport Executives’ Airport Legislative Alliance, Chair of the International Facilitation Sub-committee, and a member of AAAE’s Policy Review Committee. He is a member of the board at ACI- NA, Wings Club Foundation and NYC & Co., and a member of RTCA’s NextGen Advisory Committee and FAA’s Management Advisory Council. He is also a licensed pilot.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

Founded in 1921, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey builds, operates, and maintains many of the most important transportation and trade infrastructure assets in the country. The agency’s network of aviation, ground, rail, and seaport facilities is among the busiest in the country, supports more than 550,000 regional jobs, and generates more than $23 billion in annual wages and $80 billion in annual economic activity. The Port Authority also owns and manages the 16-acre World Trade Center site, where the 1,776-foot-tall One World Trade Center is now the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere. The Port Authority receives no tax revenue from either the State of New York or New Jersey or from the City of New York. The agency raises the necessary funds for the improvement, construction or acquisition of its facilities primarily on its own credit. For more information, please visit

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