WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. officials are pushing ahead with an experiment to reduce rampant flight delays around the United States by auctioning off takeoff and landing times at New York City-area airports, where most delays begin.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced final rules to begin auctioning takeoff and landing "slots" at the three major New York-area airports: John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia, and Newark-Liberty. Roughly two-thirds of flight delays around the U.S. are caused by backups at those airports.
Peters is adamant that auctions are needed to unclog the skies.
"Without slot auctions, a small number of airlines will profit while travelers bear the brunt of higher fares, fewer choices and deteriorating service," she said in a statement Thursday.
She said the U.S. government will gradually auction up to 10 percent of the landing and takeoff slots the airlines currently operate at the airports. The plan has drawn loud opposition in Congress, where lawmakers contend it will make things worse for the traveling public by increasing costs and reducing the number of flights to small or mid-sized cities.
Airlines and airports are trying to stop the auction plan in court.
Peters also announced plans to spend $89 million on taxiway improvements at Kennedy Airport, and reduce the number of hourly takeoffs and landings at LaGuardia from 75 to 71. Peters said the change at LaGuardia should cut flight delays there by 40 percent.
U.S. transportation officials say much of the reason for American flight delays is that airlines have tried to cram too many planes - and too many small planes - onto New York runways, and the overscheduling just isn't realistic.
To fix that, they have capped the number of flights coming into or out of those airports, and now intend to auction off a fraction of those coveted slots to airline bidders. An auction, they say, will use market forces of supply and demand to make the flight schedule more efficient.
The Bush administration is moving forward with the plan in its waning months in office despite a recent legal finding from the Government Accountability Office that they did not have the legal authority to auction flight slots.
Days after that finding by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, the Justice Department issued a contradictory finding that the government did, in fact, have the authority to auction flight slots.
Critics of the plan are furious.
"It is simply shocking that the DOT is unabashedly continuing this ideological battle despite the staunch opposition from the entire aviation community and the independent finding that the DOT lacks the power under the law to implement the proposal in the first place," Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said in a statement.
Source: Associated Press