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Maine jetport problems said to rival those of JFK, O'Hare

PORTLAND, Maine -- Portland International Jetport is getting lumped together with a couple of the nation's largest airports: Chicago's O'Hare, New York's John F. Kennedy. But airport officials aren't beaming over the publicity.

From the beginning of the year through May, Portland had the nation's third-worst record for on-time arrivals, with 42 percent of flights arriving late by 15 minutes or more, according to government statistics. Only O'Hare and Kennedy were worse.

Likewise, more than a third of departures from Portland were delayed. Portland also had more than double the national airport average of canceled flights.

City Transportation Director Jeff Monroe said the problems begin at major hub airports and ripple through smaller airports like Portland.

But Monroe acknowledged some flights have been held up for passengers going through security screening.

The airport has struggled to reduce lines at security checkpoints, especially in the mornings when 18 flights leave between 6 and 7 a.m.

Portland's poor figures also reflect increasingly congested skies, particularly in the Northeast, Monroe said.

The airline industry has faced a tough summer, with passenger loads increasing and flight schedules getting more crowded, said Bill Mitchell, president of Hurley Travel Experts in Portland. Even an isolated problem, such as thunderstorms in the summer or snowstorms in the winter, can wreck flight schedules.

Monroe said jetport officials are dealing with problems. Already, the airport has expanded the security check area to four lanes. The airport is also considering adding temporary ramps to expand gate space.

"No question it could be smoother . . . ," Monroe said. "Any of the issues the airport has control over, we'll solve."

The Portland airport needs more gates and terminal space at the airport to move passengers and planes efficiently.

For now, the city is focused on building a parking garage addition, which is scheduled to begin next spring. The city also hopes to expand the passenger terminal, but construction is not expected before 2009.

Fore more information go to the Portland Press Herald at pressherald.com.

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