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Airport Changes Not Taking Off

With a record 655 million Americans expected to board airplanes this year, Sen. John McCain wants four of the nation's busiest airports—New York's Kennedy and La Guardia, Chicago's O'Hare, and Washington's National—to become even busier by increasing the number of takeoffs and landings currently allowed.

"Americans should have access to air travel at the lowest possible cost and [with] the most convenience," McCain, R-Ariz., says. "And when we erect artificial barriers to that, it's our obligation to remove them."

But McCain's plan has put representatives from the districts served by the airports in an uproar. They say it's a slap in the face to their efforts to rein in noise and congestion.

"O'Hare is the world's busiest airport, and before you make it even busier, it seems to me sensible to talk with the people who live there," says Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill.

Moseley Braun says McCain never asked the airport if it could handle the 100 new landing slots he proposes. "None of the mayors, including the mayor of Chicago, were advised of this," she says.

Congressman Jim Moran, whose district includes Washington's Reagan National Airport, says McCain cannot ignore an agreement signed by President Reagan that turned over control of the airport to the local community.

"This is an arrogant abuse of federal power," says Moran, D-Va. "He has no right to do this."

What's got local politicians fighting mad is McCain's plan to eliminate the current 1,250-mile restriction on flights out of National. The airport is completing a $2 billion overhaul, which does not include jumbo jets.

"It's not a hub. It's not a long distance... It's not an international airport," says Betty Ann Krahnke, a local councilwoman.

McCain's critics suspect he's changing the rules to make it easier to fly to his home district in Arizona. McCain denies it.

"I have committed that I will never take a flight from Washington National direct to Phoenix, even if one is available," he says.

McCain reminds critics that the impact of his changes is not the disaster they portray. As of next year, only the quietest planes will be allowed to land at the airports. And on that, at least, even his opponents agree.

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