Time left to comment on LGA capacity proposals

 - May 19, 2008, 7:28 AM

Based on projections that airline flights at New York La Guardia Airport won’t return to their pre-September levels until the end of this summer, the FAA has extended the period for public comments on five long-term approaches to allocate capacity at LGA. The new comment period closes June 20.

The five demand-management options include both administrative and market-based approaches to allocate capacity at La Guardia, which historically is one of the most delay-plagued airports in the U.S. General aviation aircraft currently have six slots per hour reserved for their use.

Administrative options include limiting the number of operations per hour. Market-based solutions could include a willingness to pay, such as charging higher landing fees (congestion pricing of between $350 and $700 for each operation of airliners and GA aircraft during peak hours) and auctioning of landing and takeoff rights to the highest bidders, as well as establishing a minimum aircraft size. The FAA said that any solution will attempt to protect slots for service to smaller communities, and for new-entrant airlines.

Under rules issued in 1969, the number of hourly flights at LGA is limited. The Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21), enacted in April 2000, eliminates these restrictions, or slots, in 2007. AIR-21 also immediately exempted flights by new airlines and those serving smaller communities from existing slot restrictions. As a result, the demand for new service at La Guardia led to hundreds of exemption requests in summer 2000, resulting in a large increase in delays.

Playing the Slots

In December 2000 the FAA capped the number of AIR-21 slot exemptions at 159 per day and reallocated those exemptions to airlines through a lottery. Last June the FAA began seeking comments on a proposed extension of the slot-exemption lottery allocation (Phase I) and several demand-management options (Phase II). Because of September 11, in October the agency suspended the closing date for the comment period on Phase II.

Use of slots and slot exemptions at La Guardia is currently below last year’s levels by approximately 14 percent. The FAA is now seeking comments on several recent actions that may affect the appropriateness of demand-management options described in last June’s notice. These include the terrorist attacks; the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s rate increase for all three New York airports; and the shift in fleet mix resulting in an increased number of regional jet flights at LGA since September

In a separate but similar notice, the FAA has re-activated a proposal that looks at market-based solutions to relieve congestion and delays at other busy airports. Like the notice directed specifically at La Guardia, this notice was also suspended after September 11 when there was a dramatic reduction in civil air traffic. The new comment period on this notice is July 22.