Port Auth. head slams FAA

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Modernizing the Federal Aviation Administration’s air control system offers a better solution to delays at New York City airports than auctioning off landing and takeoff slots, a Port Authority official told a Queens forum last week.

“We need a modern air space system such as Europe has,” said Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in an address Friday at York College on the future of rail, road and air transportation.

“Modernizing our air control system,” Ward said, “that’s going to be the solution, not slot auctions, which is a poorly thought−out idea.”

The Port Authority has discussed filing a lawsuit to block slot auctions, a concept never attempted. The federal Transportation Department wants to implement the plan in January.

The Government Accountability Office recently offered a legal opinion that the FAA has no authority to auction slots on the grounds that rules governing airports were not meant to give the FAA the right to regard airport slots as its property. But days later, the DOT announced it had obtained from the Justice Department a green light to go ahead.

Opposition to slot auctions has been increasing among elected officials.

“It is simply shocking that the Department of Transportation is unabashedly continuing this ideological battle despite the staunch opposition from the entire aviation community,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D−N.Y.)

Schumer has criticized the Bush administration for what he has termed an ideological war in which air traffic controllers work in an oppressive atmosphere that has caused so many early retirements that many airport control towers do not have enough air controllers.

“This half−baked plan would bring chaos at New York airports,” Schumer said.

Critics have long called for upgrading the U.S. air control system, saying aspects of it remain from the 1950s.

The FAA wants to auction off 113 of LaGuardia’s 1,121 slots, 89 of the 124 slots at JFK and 91 of the 1,245 slots at Newark.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters has maintained that slot auctions would activate market forces, cut down on demand and encourage use of larger jets, thus relieving delays, particularly those at JFK, Newark and LaGuardia, which have long been the worst of a list of the 35 busiest airports in the nation.

Critics of slot auctions say the plan would, among other flaws, force airlines to abandon service to many smaller cities nationwide.

The resistance of slot auctions has also come from the Air Transport Association and the International Air Transport Association, both representing airlines, groups of business travelers and other associations.

Despite the uncertainty brought about by the air control controversy, Ward assured his audience that the Port Authority’s commitment to Queens and its two great air terminals was unceasing.

Ward mentioned new improvements at John F. Kennedy International airport, such as the new Terminal 5 and the AirTrain, saying they were only a taste of things to come.

“We live in a city where we build every single day,” Ward said. “What we do ripples across the entire world.”

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