One-seat ride to city key to JFK expansion: Meeks

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American Airlines would consider basing a connection hub at Kennedy Airport if there was a one-seat train ride to Manhattan, U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said last week.

Meeks, whose congressional district includes the airport, discussed the idea with airline executives in April as a way to help bolster southeast Queens’ economy and the airline industry, both of which were affected by last year’s Sept. 11 attacks.

The proposal, which is still in its earliest stages, was announced at last Thursday’s meeting of the JFK Chamber of Commerce.

Establishing Kennedy Airport as a hub for the airline could mean as many as 1,500 additional jobs for southeast Queens residents, Meeks said.

Meeks told the chamber that American Airlines Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Don Carty was very receptive to the idea of making the airport a hub, provided that a one-seat train ride to Manhattan was available to passengers.

“With the development of a one-seat train ride to Manhattan we feel the potential exists to expand role of Kennedy Airport,” said Marty Heires, spokesman for American Airlines.

Meeks is hoping to expand the AirTrain light rail system now under construction. The AirTrain is scheduled to begin shuttling passengers between the airport and Howard Beach this fall and to downtown Jamaica in the spring. Extending the reach of the AirTrain into Manhattan could help sway the airline to create the hub at Kennedy, Meeks said.

“The one-seat ride is very instrumental,” Meeks said. “It makes it more convenient, it makes it more enticing to fly thought JFK. A one-seat ride would pay for itself eventually.”

Kennedy already serves as an international gateway for American, and the airline has invested more than $1 billion to renovate its terminal there, Heires said. As a hub airport, Kennedy would enable the airline to offer connections to passengers traveling from smaller airports to international destinations.

“For that community, they could not hope to have a non-stop flight to Paris or to London,” Heires said. “But we could take passengers from small cities and build passenger traffic on flights leaving that hub. We would use Kennedy as a collection point for passengers so we can route them to their destinations.”

Meeks said he has spoken with other area politicians about expanding the AirTrain, including U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.). He plans to resume discussions with the airline next year, he said.

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

Posted 7:20 pm, October 10, 2011
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