Get ready for the return of Terminal 6 at New York City’s JFK airport. The old building was demolished after JetBlue opened its flagship T5 hub in 2008 but the carrier retained the rights for future development. Now, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pushing for a redevelopment of JFK and restructuring of the terminals – a $10bn project if all the work is completed – JetBlue is ready to move forward. It issued a Request for Qualifications last week, asking developers to prove their abilities to design and construct the new building.
The new T6 will add additional gate space that JFK sorely needs. At peak times the carrier already uses hard stands (i.e. bus gates) for some international arrivals because it lacks sufficient gates at the T5i international arrivals extension that opened in 2014. JetBlue would like to expand its own operations, within the limits of the landing slots portfolio it currently holds, but the T6 development has a broader goal.
At multiple points in the release the company points out the need to increase international gate space, both for itself and for partner airlines. Adding a few gates specifically designed for wide-body aircraft would help, too. JetBlue has many partner airlines at JFK but in most cases passengers must transfer terminals – outside security – to move between flights. Consolidating into a joint T5/T6 complex would ease many of those connections.
Today JetBlue’s T5 handles Hawaiian Airlines, Aer Lingus and TAP Air Portugal with as many as five daily flights. Of those, only the TAP flights require inbound customs and immigration service. But four of the five are A330 aircraft, a type that requires blocking at least one adjacent gate in most scenarios. Designing a new terminal that can handle larger jets without blocking adjacent gates will improve the overall utilization of the facility. And it would potentially let other partners join JetBlue in its terminal. Candidates for such a move include Air China, Aeroflot, ANA, China Airlines, Egyptair, EVA Air, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Singapore Airlines, and Turkish Airlines. I believe these more likely based on flight frequencies (mostly 1x daily at JFK) and aircraft size, as well as current terminal assignment.
Other partners, such as Emirates and Etihad that could also be considered. They operate more flights, all on A380s, that make such a shift more challenging. Other partners, such as Cathay Pacific, Brussels Airlines, Iberia, JAL, and LATAM hold tighter ties with other partners at JFK or a parent company with an ownership stake in one of the other terminals at the airport.
One interesting twist is that JetBlue also talks about an option on redesigning Terminal 7. That space is owned and operated by British Airways today; a $65mm renovation was recently announced. Taking over management of the terminal from BA would be a most intriguing shift, though perhaps the Brits are ready for such a move. The current BA lease runs through 2022.
BA is reportedly set to remove all its local staff from the final 10 stations in the USA, including JFK. Giving up terminal management makes sense as the company works to reduce headcount and focus on core operations. If JetBlue manages to connect T5 to a revamped T7 through the new T6 that would be a significant improvement for passengers. It would bring together nearly as many airlines as are in the T4 complex inside a common security area. Depending on the layout of the new terminals and which partners are being accommodated A380 gates might suddenly become available to BA for some of its daily flights, too.
A new T5/6/7 complex looks large on the map but the overall distances remain reasonable. As currently built the walk from Gate 1 at T5 to the far side of T7 is a hair over a half mile. That’s 10-15 minutes walking for most people and shorter than the walk from JFK T4 security to the far end of the new Delta RJ farm or end-to-end of Denver’s Terminal B. So, a long hike but not impossible. And JetBlue seems to be able to maintain moving sidewalks, unlike the PANYNJ; that should help travelers, too.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) May 12, 2017
Also, the new terminal will connect nicely with the TWA Hotel being built at T5. That project finally brings the original Eero Saarinen terminal back into active use. Construction began in December 2016 and is expected to complete in 2018. Mostly it looks like a big pit these days, but that will change soon enough.
Getting more landing slots would bring a more significant impact to JetBlue’s operations, of course. But no new runways are coming nor will the ATC procedures change dramatically in the near future. At this point better terminal layouts to reduce peak ground delays (Hi, T1!) and generally make the in-terminal experience nicer (Terminals 1, 2 and 7 are all pretty bad) are the best a passenger can hope for.
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