Crowded NYC Airports Snub Flight Auctions

Luggage sits inside Terminal 8 at JFK International Airport in New York, Wednesday, July 30, 2008. A computer software glitch crippled the baggage handling system at an American Airlines terminal at Kennedy Airport on Wednesday, delaying some flights and causing a luggage pileup at the ticket counters.
AP Photo/Rick Maiman
The managers of New York City's crowded airports say they will block a Bush administration plan to try to reduce flight delays around the country through an experimental auction of slots at their airports.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has issued a legal notice stating it will not accept any flights at its three major airports - John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty International, and LaGuardia - that are the result of a government auction.

The bistate agency has long opposed the auction plan championed by the Bush administration as a way to reduce flight delays from those airports, which have a cascade effect, causing spillover delays nationwide.

The agency claims that they, as the airport manager, have the right to disallow departures or arrivals that are issued by auction or similar process. Such a claim could ultimately end in a legal fight between the U.S. government and the quasi-public agency that operates the New York City area's airports.

Industry opponents of the auction scheme contend it will not reduce delays but will jack up prices of airline tickets, and lawmakers in Congress are already pushing legislation that would short-circuit the Bush administration's auction plan.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is pushing that bill, lauded the Port Authority's announcement.

The Department of Transportation, Schumer said, "appears hell-bent on jamming this unworkable plan down the throats of the Port Authority and New York City air travelers, but we are going to fight this every step of the way."

U.S. airports saw near-record delays last year, and the government says two out of three flights delayed 15 minutes or more were due to a backup in New York.

As public frustration with air travel increased, the White House demanded action, and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced the auction slot plan.

Under the plan, the government will require carriers at the three airports to auction off some of their existing slots over the next five years and possibly retire others, in combination with limits on the number of flights at peak hours at those airports.

Government officials say such an auction is the best way to use market forces to cut inefficiencies in the system and make air travel more reliable. Opponents contend it will make the system more expensive and reduce service to a number of medium and small city airports.

Port Authority officials said Monday that they and a majority of other airport operators around the country believe the auction plan would have a severe negative impact on air travelers, and contend the administration cannot enforce such a plan without authorization from Congress.