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Feds OK peak-time fees at congested city airports

Federal Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said the new nationwide policy was aimed at encouraging airports to avoid bunching of too many flights in too few hours. Peters announced that airports would be permitted to take into consideration the times of flights as well as weight of airplanes when compiling landing fees. The congestion at John F. Kennedy International, La Guardia and Newark Liberty International has left the three airports at the bottom of the on-time flight list of the nation's 35 busiest airports. The jam-ups at the New York airports has caused a ripple effect throughout much of the country, causing as much as 75 percent of the nation's flight delays. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is among many critics of the new policy. "When there is a huge fire, you don't take out a garden hose and say this will do the job," Schumer said. "We are still waiting for the FAA to adequately put in new technology, man the control towers, and settle the long-standing labor dispute with the air traffic controllers." The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports also disagreed with the new policy. "These small steps do not address the fundamental problem when dramatic action is needed," a Port Authority statement said.James May, president of the Air Transport Association, which represents the nation's airlines, said "Unfortunately, that does nothing to fix the primary cause of delays, our nation's increasingly antiquated air traffic control system." Peters said that under the new policy, airports would be allowed to use money derived from higher fees to finance airport improvements such as runways. The new rules are to become effective following a 45-day period during which public comment is invited. The Federal Transportation last month imposed flight limits starting in March on the three New York airports. JFK will be permitted 82 or 83 flights an hour at times of peak activity, reduced from 100, during the high travel time last summer. Schumer has long urged federal officials to install what he says is badly needed modern technology in the air traffic control system, hire more air controllers and end what he - as well as other critics of the Federal Aviation Administration - call a long-standing dispute with the air controllers union that critics say has caused a rancorous working environment in many control towers.Reach reporter Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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