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Airline puts the brakes on JFK terminal project

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American Airlines has decided to slow construction on its terminal renovation project at Kennedy Airport after reporting a $2 billion net loss in 2002, an airline spokesman said.

The $1.3 billion plan to upgrade Terminals 8 and 9 was slated to be completed by 2006, but a revised schedule, which reverts to the original time line for the project, has the work finished by 2007, said Al Becker, a spokesman for American Airlines.

"We are going forward with the terminal project at Kennedy Airport," he said. "We will go ahead and complete it but on a somewhat different timeline."

American Airlines posted a $529 million loss in the fourth quarter of last year, making a $2 billion red-ink figure for 2002. Last year's deficit was larger than its 2001 loss of $1.4 billion, the airline said in a news release from its Fort Worth, Texas headquarters.

The losses are due to a reduction in air travel business, and similar hits are being reported throughout the industry, Becker said.

"Things, of course, have changed dramatically as a result of Sept. 11, the economy slowdown and enormous losses within the airline industry," he said. "We have a financial crisis on our hands in the airline industry and at American."

The company's original schedule for the project, which includes a 57-gate terminal, concourse work and roadway repairs, listed a completion date of 2007 with Concourse C, one of the levels within the terminal, set to open in July 2004, Becker said.

In 2001 before the Sept. 11 attacks, American Airlines accelerated its construction work, expecting to finish by 2006 and open Concourse C in 2003, he said.

With last year's losses, however, the company decided to revert to the original schedule, which will save the airline $170 million in construction costs this year, Becker said.

"The airline needs to conserve cash right now," he said. "We decided not to do the accelerated schedule but to move back to the construction project's original time frame."

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages Kennedy Airport, had no comment on the American Airlines project. The PA also leases the terminals to the airlines, and a spokesman for the bistate agency said the airlines oversee their own buildings.

Despite the construction delays and the profit losses, American Airlines has pledged to forge ahead with the terminal renovations at Kennedy Airport, Becker said.

"We remain as committed to the projects as we ever were and, of course, JFK will continue to be the center of our routes in that region."

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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