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Port Authority has plans to ease LGA congestion

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The Port...

By Philip Newman

The Port Authority has presented to the Federal Aviation Administration suggestions for relieving congestion at LaGuardia Airport, including higher peak hours landing fees and promoting use of bigger planes to replace smaller regional jets.

The Port Authority’s suggestions will be part of discussions during a two-month period of public comment under the auspices of the FAA, which predicts that LaGuardia will experience a 17 percent increase in demand and a 10 percent increase in capacity over the next decade.

“All of the stakeholders agree that there is a problem and the traveling public deserves relief from congestion and delays,” said Port Authority Executive Director Neil Levin. “Although these ideas are under active consideration, the Port Authority has no preconceived conclusions about which idea or combination of ideas would offer the best permanent solution.”

“We must take action on behalf of the more than 25 million passengers who fly into and out of LaGuardia Airport each year,” said Port Authority Chairman Lewis Eisenberg. “People should be spending less time sitting on crowded runways. The Port Authority will work aggressively with the FAA, U.S. Department of Transportation, members of Congress, passengers and the airlines to meet the needs of the flying public.”

The Port Authority suggested:

• Encouragement of voluntary industry solutions.

• Limiting the number of flights permitted each hour at LaGuardia.

• Charging airlines a “congestion” fee for most flights during peak periods or conducting an auction among the airlines for a predetermined number of permitted flights.

• Providing rebates on fees or other financial incentives to encourage the use of larger aircraft, protect start-up airlines and preserve service to underserved airports.

• Providing money to encourage development of additional airport and airspace capacity in the region, including physical infrastructure and technological improvements.

The Port Authority suggested that during peak times, airlines might be charged from $300 to $2,000 per landing and takeoff. At present, fees are assessed according to the weight of the jetliner or $5.15 per 1,000 pounds.

The Air Transport Association, the major airlines’ lobbying agency, said the increased fees would only bring higher fares for passengers.

The FAA lottery on slots at LaGuardia, imposed in December to relieve congestion at the nation’s most flight-delayed airport, is due to expire in September and FAA officials indicated they would probably extend the restraints on new flights for a year pending permanent measures to solve the problem.

LaGuardia’s problems quickly worsened in April 2000 after Congress passed the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st century, more popularly known as AIR-21.

The legislation included a portion permitting an unlimited number of flights by regional jets carrying no more than 70 passengers (many now in service carry a maximum of 50) to underserved airports, such as Madison, Wis., Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, and Savannah, Ga. The idea was to provide competition on routes where passengers had complained fares had been exorbitant.

The Port Authority has noted that while the concept of the regional jets is admirable, the smaller jets carry a fraction of the number of passengers of the larger planes yet take up space in takeoff lineups and contribute to delays.

The slot lottery cut LaGuardia’s daily number of landings and takeoffs from nearly 1,500 in September to 1,200 at present.

LaGuardia accounted for nearly a quarter of all congestion delays in the nation at one point last fall.

Several Queens members of Congress reacted positively to the Port Authority report with U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), saying he was pleased the agency included some of the recommendations from his recent report on LaGuardia, which is in his Congressional district.

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Rego Park) said the report was “a welcome first step toward ending the gridlock at LaGuardia, but the final plan must protect the interests of local residents.”

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) said “aircraft noise concerns and keeping flight costs low must be high priorities in any plan to ease overcrowding at LaGuardia.”

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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