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JFK runway work prompts airlines to seek penalty relief

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Queens-based JetBlue Airways, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have asked the federal government to exempt them temporarily from a new rule limiting how long passengers may be held in an airliner on the ground.

The airlines said they are concerned they might face ruinous fines because of delays as a result of the shutdown of the main runway at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The federal Department of Transportation rule, which becomes effective April 29, provides that airlines must allow passengers to leave delayed airliners after three hours. Otherwise, the airline could face a fine of $27,500 per passenger. That could translate into millions for a plane loaded with passengers.

JetBlue, Delta and American operate the most flights out of JFK.

“Although JetBlue has already taken several steps to minimize the impact of this closure on its JFK operations, this exemption is necessary to ensure that JetBlue is not penalized if JFK becomes gridlocked at peak operation times,” the airlines said in their request to the federal agency.

The main runway at JFK was shut down March 1 with work to be completed in four months.

The runway, known as the Bay Runway, is 14,542 feet long and dates back to JFK’s origins as Idlewild Airport, which opened in 1948. The runway’s asphalt is being removed and replaced with concrete and widened to accommodate larger aircraft.

JFK, along with LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport were among the nation’s worst for delays even before the JFK runway shutdown.

Airlines are concerned that with the approaching summer vacation season delays could worsen.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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