By Devlin Barrett
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
The managers of New York City's three crowded airports vowed yesterday to block a Bush administration experiment to reduce flight delays around the country by auctioning off takeoff and landing slots. A federal official said the airports had no such power and hinted they may lose funding if they don't back down.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a legal notice stating it will not accept any flights at its three major airports -- John F. Kennedy International, Newark Liberty International, and LaGuardia -- that are the result of a government auction of takeoff and landing slots.
The Bush administration has championed a limited auction of takeoff and landing slots at those airports to reduce flight delays there, which have a cascade effect, causing spillover delays nationwide.
U.S. airports saw near-record delays last year, and the government says two out of three flights delayed 15 minutes or more were due to a backup in New York's jammed airspace. As public frustration with air travel increased, the White House demanded action, and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced the slot auction plan. The Port Authority, a bistate agency, vehemently opposes it.
The Port Authority claims that it has the right to disallow departures or arrivals that are issued by auction.
The Department of Transportation's top lawyer, D.J. Gribbin, said the move "boldly violates" the Port Authority's funding agreements with the Federal Aviation Administration -- meaning a continued standoff could result in the loss of money to rebellious airports.
Port Authority aviation director William DeCota said that if the administration proceeds with its plan, "I can guarantee there's going to be a great deal of legal action against them."
And any plane arriving via an auctioned slot would be barred from using gates or ground facilities at their airports, he added.
Industry opponents of the auction contend it will not reduce delays but will jack up prices of airline tickets, and lawmakers in Congress are already pushing legislation that would short-circuit the Bush administration's auction plan.
Port Authority officials said yesterday that they and other airport operators think the auction plan would have a severe negative impact on travelers, and contend the administration cannot enforce it without authorization from Congress.