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Frank Franklin II/AP
Airplanes line the runway at LaGuardia Airport in New York.

NY Airports Plan to Block Flight Slot Auction Proposal

August 06, 2008 12:41 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that area airports will not accept flights from airlines that purchased landing slots in a government auction.

30-Second Summary

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In an effort to block the Bush administration’s proposal to auction flight landing slots, the Port Authority’s major airports—John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty, and LaGuardia—will ban any airliner landing in an auctioned spot from using gates or ground facilities.

The decision to auction slots came after one of the worst years in history for flight delays. From January to April of 2007, only 72 percent of U.S. domestic flights arrived on time, with passengers often stranded for hours in overcrowded airports. New York City’s three major airports were the top offenders.

To remedy the situation, the FAA proposed a plan requiring carriers at those airports to auction off some of their slots over the next five years, as well as limit the number of flights at peak hours. The goal of the plan is to reduce congestion and cut down on delays while distributing landing spaces that open up from flight caps fairly.

The Port Authority fervently opposes auctioning slots, believing it will reduce service to small and medium-sized airports and ultimately hurt consumers by raising ticket prices. William DeCota, the Port Authority’s aviation director, calls the proposal “not only illegal but also disastrous.”

D.J. Gribbin, the Transportation Department’s top lawyer, maintains that the law is on the government’s side. “We clearly have the authority, as we’ve done with orders that currently exist, to determine which carriers can access the airports at what times,” he said

Indeed, 15 years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in City of Burbank v. Lockheed Air Terminal that the federal government held full control of airspace management.

NYC Will Defy FAA Auction Plan

The Port Authority refused to accept the Department of Transportation’s rationale that “landing rights should go to the highest bidder, at prices that reflect the level of demand, just as airlines price their tickets to reflect demand,” reports the International Herald tribune. Port Authority aviation director Bill DeCota warned that, if the DOT proceeds with auctioning landing slots, “there’s going to be a great deal of legal action against them.”
The Port Authority will accept public comments on its plans for the next two weeks, but the federal and local governments continue to bicker. The Transportation Department says that the New York airport manager’s ban “vastly outstrips any authority they have,” arguing that it is up to the federal government to decide which carriers access U.S. airports. DeCota, however, alleges that the government is “going to be selling something that doesn’t belong to them,” and Port Authority director Giovanni Bisignani called the proposal “an illegal and unjustified challenge to 60 years of internationally accepted slot-management procedure.” N.Y. Sen. Charles Schumer sides with the Port Authority and says that the DOT “appears hell-bent on jamming this unworkable plan down the throats of the Port Authority and New York City air travelers, but we are going to fight them every step of the way.”

Background: Worst flight delays in 13 years; plans to auction flight slots

Historical Context: Supreme Court rules federal government owns U.S. airspace

Reference: Port Authority press release; Air travel consumer reports

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