Feds’ plan to auction slots at JFK Airport assailed

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Federal authorities have announced a plan to auction take-off and landing slots at Kennedy and Newark airports in an effort to reduce the nation's worst flight delays.

The strategy came under attack by airlines, the Port Authority and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who called it "nothing short of insanity."

"We need a way to keep aviation competition alive in the free market capital of the world," Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said Friday. "This new proposal will do much to make flying to New York attractive."

Federal officials also announced a plan to limit flights at Newark as a way of lessening congestion and late flights. Caps, as the limits are known, are already in place at La Guardia and Kennedy.

JFK, Newark and La Guardia rank at the bottom of a list of the nation's 30 busiest airports when it comes to delayed flights.

FAA officials say a third of all flights pass through New York air space and thus, the congestion in the New York metropolitan area causes a ripple effect in much of the rest of the nation.

The federal government's auction plan ran into immediate opposition.

"Implementing an untested scheme to impose auctions at the busiest airports in America is nothing short of insanity," Schumer said. "Auctions have never been tried and were hatched by a handful of ivory tower types in the administration. It shows this administration puts ideology above the safety and economic well-being of the American flier."

U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) said the Peters announcement "once again ignores the real problems causing congestion in our nation's airways and airports."

She added, "It appears the FAA now plans to press forward with a myopic plan providing no clear solution to the problem of congestion but may, in fact, drive up ticket prices for passengers at our airports.

Federal Aviation Administration officials contend the auction system will permit newer, low- fare airlines to compete and thus keep fares low.

For their part, airlines say they acquired the slots long ago and to take them away would be unfair and perhaps illegal with some carriers saying they are prepared to file lawsuits over the issue.

"Replacing a 1950s-era air traffic control system to increase capacity and meet passenger demand should be the hallmark of any program advanced by U.S. DOT and FAA," the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey said. "Instead, these agencies are proposing no solution for increasing capacity except for a poorly conceived plan to auction flight slots to the highest bidder and increase ticket prices."

The Air Transport Association, representing the biggest U.S. airlines, agreed.

"These ill-conceived and unlawful proposals are driven by ideology and will not reduce congestion or flight delays," said James May, chief executive of the agency.

Updated 6:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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