AVIATION:

DOT scraps auction plan for NYC airports

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced plans today to reverse a Bush administration plan for auctioning to the highest bidder a portion of takeoff and landing slots at three New York City-area airports.

Speaking in New York, LaHood cited opposition from the aviation community and the economic recession as reasons to abandon the congestion-reduction plan. He said he was still committed to addressing NYC aviation traffic, which often leads to delays at airports nationwide.

"We're still serious about tackling aviation congestion in the New York region," he said, according to a transcript. "I'll be talking with airline, airport and consumer stakeholders, as well as elected officials, over the summer about the best ways to move forward."

The controversial plan to auction up to 10 percent of slots at JFK International, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International over a five-year period was approved last October by then-Transportation Secretary Mary Peters. The first round of auctions had been scheduled for early January, only days before former President George W. Bush left office, but was postponed by a judge after the airline industry filed a lawsuit to stop the plan.

Supporters of the auction scheme argue that by forcing airlines to bid for the slots, it would make them more likely to fly larger aircraft in and out of the airports, which in turn would reduce congestion, increase capacity and lower fares.

Under the current system, some airlines use less-desirable slots for smaller planes in an attempt to block competitors from gaining additional slots and to keep fares high, according to the DOT officials who approved the original rulemaking.

Auction proceeds -- an estimated $10 million a year per airport -- would have been spent on additional congestion-cutting measures at the three locations. Currently, airlines use the takeoff and landing slots free of charge.

Opponents of the plan, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), argued against its general concept, as well as DOT's legal footing to implement it in the first place (Greenwire, Oct. 15, 2008).

There will be a 30-day comment window on the proposed rescinding of the rule following its publication in the Federal Register. DOT will then review the comments and issue a final decision.

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