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Terminals Only Part of the Solution for Kennedy

It's obviously a leap of faith to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build stunning new terminals at one of the country's most congested, delay-prone airports.

But that's exactly what AMR's (AMR) American and JetBlue (JBLU) are doing, as they ratchet up the competition at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

American on Wednesday celebrated the opening of its $1.3 billion terminal, "one of the biggest, boldest and most expensive projects in American Airlines history," said CEO Gerard Arpey, during a press conference. The airy, imposing structure has 65-foot ceilings, 84 staffed ticketing positions and three passenger lounges, and it will have 36 gates.

With Kennedy the top U.S. gateway for international passengers, "our focus was to create something so that when customers come through, they are proud that they're in the United States of America," Arpey said.

The improvements come at an airport where clogged airspace and air traffic control delays mean that just two-thirds of all flights departed on time during the first half of 2007, ranking it 31st of 32 major airports, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

"It doesn't do much good to build a lot of new runways and beautiful facilities if the airspace is so congested that you can't use it," Arpey conceded. "One of the major challenges confronting the U.S. is the infrastructure of our air traffic control system in this country. It desperately needs modernization."

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