Port Authority, Airlines sue to stop auctions at New York airports

By Philip Newman

Federal officials plan to start auctioning off landing slots at John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International airports starting Wednesday, but major airlines and the Port Authority have filed a lawsuit to stop it.

Gov. David Paterson and Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey have appealed to federal officials to call off the plans in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, saying the concept, which has never been put into operation, was a mistake and would bring 12 percent higher airfares.

The Port Authority said it would not allow takeoffs of flights connected with slot auctions, prompting federal officials to threaten to withhold thousands of dollars in federal grants to New York City airports.

The Air Transport Association, which represents most major airlines, filed a lawsuit against slot auctions more than a week ago and the Port Authority filed a motion to join the suit shortly afterward.

The Federal Aviation Administration came up with the idea of an auction to determine which airlines get a limited number of slots as part of an effort to reduce chronic delays at the New York airports.

Opponents of the auction concept contend it would greatly diminish air service at smaller cities since slots would be likely to go to financially stronger airlines using larger aircraft carrying more passengers to larger cities and generating more revenue.

The first such auction is scheduled for Wednesday at Newark airport. Others are slated to follow at JFK airport at an as yet unannounced time. LaGuardia has not been mentioned as part of the slot auction.

The Port Authority Tuesday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington for permission to join the lawsuit by the Air Transport Association against the slot auction.

Paterson and Corzine cited estimates that air service to at least 25 smaller cities would be severely cut or ended if the auctions took place and that passengers would be paying up to 12 percent more.

The governors suggested that “this misguided policy” would also accomplish nothing toward easing congestion and delays at metropolitan airports.

U.S. Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have also criticized the slot auction concept, with Schumer calling it “nothing short of insanity.”

Schumer has called on federal officials to hire more air controllers, modernize what he says is an outdated air control system and end a feud with the Air Controllers union.

Schumer said the slot auction concept was “hatched by a handful of ivory tower types in the administration and showed that the “administration puts ideology above the safety and economic well-being of the American flier.”

JFK, Newark and La Guardia airports have long ranked at the top of a list of the nation's 32 busiest airports when it comes to delayed flights.

Meanwhile, next month will bring an end to 25 flights from city airports to 25 destinations as airlines cut back because of the high cost of fuel and a slowing economy.

Both domestic and international cities are those to which service will be ended.

Reach contributing writer Philip by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 136.

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