The Wall Street Journal
Bush Plan to Unclog Airways Includes Auction of La Guardia Landing Spots
By MARTIN VAUGHAN
April 17, 2008; Page D5
WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is raising the stakes in its effort to introduce more market-based approaches to relieve crowding in the nation's airways.
Under a proposal announced Wednesday, airlines would be required to put up a portion of their closely guarded landing slots at New York's La Guardia Airport for auction each year for the next five years.
In addition, the Transportation Department also made final a rule to double to as much as $800 the maximum amounts airlines are required to pay passengers who are bumped from flights against their will. Airlines are required to refund bumped passengers the cost of the ticket plus the equivalent of two one-way fares. Wednesday's action increases the cap on those payouts to $400 from $200 if passengers reach their destination within two hours for domestic flights, and to $800 if they don't reach their destination within that time.
La Guardia -- one of the nation's most congested airports and a bottleneck that is blamed for causing delays throughout the system -- would become the test case for a controversial idea that senior officials at the Transportation Department have long sought to put into practice.
"They're under tremendous pressure to ensure that they don't have a repeat of the 2007 summer travel season," said Thomas Zoeller, president of the National Air Carriers Association.
But major U.S. airlines are expected to fight the proposal. US Airways Group Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. might lose the most under the department's plan.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates La Guardia and other New York-area airports, panned the proposal, saying it "would reduce choices for customers, make flying more expensive, and cut service to small cities that otherwise have no flights to New York City."
The proposed rule must undergo a 60-day comment period and interagency review before becoming final.
The Transportation Department says the proposal will encourage lower fares by helping newer, low-cost airlines gain access to coveted La Guardia slots, and will cut congestion by spurring airlines to fly more passengers on fewer aircraft.
The auction proposal for La Guardia is not the only area where administration officials have sought to use market-based tools to help alleviate clogged airways. Earlier this year, the Transportation Department dropped plans to implement a similar auction at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
The department is now weighing a separate proposal to allow airports to charge additional landing fees on flights that operate at peak times.
The department also announced other measures aimed at easing congestion and passenger concerns. To cut down on summer delays, the Federal Aviation Administration will allow outbound aircraft from the New York area to use Canadian airspace to avoid severe weather and will open a second westbound route from New York airports.
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