Flight delays at New York's three major airports cause a ripple effect that snarls air traffic nationwide, and the U.S. Office of the Inspector General wants the FAA to please consider possibly doing something about it. A new report [pdf] stops short of demanding that the FAA reduce the number of flights scheduled at the airports, but calls upon the FAA to "reexamine" the scheduling rules, or else... there might be another report in a couple of years! Right now one-quarter of all flights in and out of New York and Newark end up delayed or canceled.

In 2008 the FAA imposed new caps barring airlines from scheduling more than 83 flights per hour at JFK and Newark, and 81 at LaGuardia. This is manageable when the weather's decent, but during inclement weather the capacity drops to 64-67 flights per hour at JFK, 69-74 at LaGuardia, and 61-66 at Newark. (It's been estimated that New York causes three-quarters of all delays in the United States, but the report says that's an exaggeration.) As of August, 26 percent of incoming flights at LaGuardia and JFK arrived late or were canceled in 2010; at Newark it's 28 percent. The delays cost the U.S. economy billions.

The Inspector General wants the schedule limits to be more flexible, and points to the rules at London’s airports, where there are fewer flights allowed during the winter months. (London has 20 percent fewer delays than New York.) Of course, the airlines don't want to reduce the flights they squeeze in and out of NY's airports. "There are better solutions than restraining capacity by imposing flight caps," one airline flack tells the AP. "The FAA must ensure that we are utilizing these important airports to their full capacity." And Jeffrey Zupan, a transportation expert at the Regional Plan Association, opposes lowering scheduling caps, because "that’s not solving anything; that’s hoping the problem will go away."