COVID Places The Brakes On New York JFK Refurbishment

The planned makeover of New York’s JFK Airport has been – partially – put on hold. The $15 billion refurbishment scheme was supposed to begin this year and be completed in 2025. However, corona had other plans. Due to the outbreak of the pandemic and the subsequent crash in passenger demand, the renovation could now be delayed by several years.

JFK airport construction delayed
A $15 billion plan to refurbish JFK has been pushed back due to the pandemic. Photo: Getty Images

New York’s Governor Cuomo announced the plan for the revamping of JFK in 2018. It is meant to modernize operations and unify a fragmented terminal structure, replacing today’s six terminals with four, with a new Kennedy Central hub in the middle. The Port Authority’s executive director Rick Cotton said at the time that it would make JFK a “destination unto itself.”

Furthermore, the plan’s creators intended to add extra gates to accommodate what seemed to be an ever-increasing number of passengers.

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Handling 15% of passengers

In 2019, JFK handled nearly 62 million passengers. According to the Wall Street Journal, officials were expecting that number to rise to 75 million by 2030. However, what is now looking like it will be the year of COVID-19 has put a wrench in predictions.

Today, passenger numbers are down to 15% of the usual level, which is quite an improvement from the lowest point of a mere 2% at the height of the outbreak back in April. While, of course, numbers may still recuperate within a decade, forecasts for the next few years look very different than they did a mere six months ago.

British Airways, American Airlines, New York JFK
The joint venture between BA and American at Terminal 8 has already commenced. Photo: American Airlines

Terminal 8 going ahead

Reportedly, negotiations for several contracts are already way behind schedule. While JFK’s operator, the Port Authority of New York, is itself financing part of the makeover, private investors and the airlines themselves were to contribute several billions of dollars. As airlines are struggling for survival, it is no surprise that the revamping of airport terminals is not taking priority on the agenda.

The exception is the refurbishment of Terminal 8, the airport’s largest terminal. Work commenced on January 7th this year, before the effects of the pandemic were known. The $344 million renovation is a joint venture between American Airlines and British Airways. It will add 6,500 square meters to the terminal, along with five new widebody gates, and four widebody hardstands, as well as co-branded lounges.

British Airways, Airbus A350, One Year
British Airways will move to Terminal 8 when construction is done. Photo: Tom Boon – Simple Flying

Piecing together a fragmented structure

Today’s terminals are all managed by different entities, much to the chagrin of connecting passengers.

Terminal 1 is run by a partnership between Air France, Korean Air, Lufthansa, and Japan Airlines. Terminal 2 is usually operated exclusively by Delta Air Lines. However, due to present circumstances, all T2 operations have been moved to Terminal 4, which is run by JFK International Air Terminal, a subsidiary of the Dutch Schiphol Group. It was the first airport termnal in the US to be managed by a foreign airport operator, and functions as Delta’s hub at JFK along with T2.

Terminals 1, 2, and the area of the old Terminal 3 structure which now functions as Delta’s remote parking for T4, will be joined into a new $7 billion terminal. This will be run by the same consortium of carriers now responsible for T1. Furthermore, the new building will connect to Terminal 4.

Terminal 5 was opened in 2008 for JetBlue, which remains its main carrier. Terminal 7 is, as the only terminal on US soil, operated by a lone foreign airline – British Airways. However, once BA’s lease is up, it will move to the oneworld gathering at the then-modernized Terminal 8, which is also American’s main hub at the airport.

Terminal 7 will, once construction will finally go ahead, become part of JetBlue’s Terminal 5, which will, in turn, have expanded to incorporate the old Terminal 6.

Were you excited about the intended overhaul of JFK? How long do you think it will be until construction is done? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.