Sections

GAO says FAA can’t auction off airport runway slots

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The Federal Aviation Administration has no legal right to auction takeoff and landing space at airports, a federal agency has reported in a legal opinion.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D−N.Y.) applauded the news along with the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey and the Air Transport Association, which represents airlines.

“We conclude that FAA may not auction slots under its property disposition authority, user fee authority or any other authority and thus also may not retain or use proceeds of any such auctions,” said Gary Kepplinger, general counsel of the congressional Government Accountability Office.

Kepplinger said the FAA claims that it may assign air space as its property, but that the laws covering the FAA were not written to include such a property definition.

The auctioning of slots, the first to have been at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey with John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports to follow, was the Bush administra­tion’s answer to worsening delays at New York area airports and other airports nationwide. The New York airports have the poorest on−time records in the country.

Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the GAO was not well−informed about aviation law.

“Should Congress give the agency an opportunity to conduct a more thorough review, we are confident the GAO will better understand both the validity and the effectiveness of our approach,” Turmail said.

“This once again shows that the Department of Transportation needs to put a stop to this ideological battle that would cause chaos at New York airports,” Schumer said. “The administration has tried to jam through a half−baked−plan that cannot even be implemented.”

The auctioning of landing and takeoff slots, which has never been attempted, was announced by U.S. DOT Secretary Mary Peters as way to relieve flight delays, including those at the three New York airports, which are the nation’s busiest airports among a list of 35.

The DOT suggested that market forces would reduce demand and promote order in the commercial aviation network.

Opponents said such auctions would drive up air fares and force an end to air service for many smaller cities.

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