Unsnarling La Guardia tops N.Y. meeting agenda

 - May 19, 2008, 10:41 AM

Business aviation tried to avoid getting caught in the crossfire of rhetoric at the July 16 House aviation subcommittee hearings on air-traffic congestion in the New York metropolitan area, specifically at La Guardia Airport (LGA). The field hearing took place at New York City’s World Trade Center, in front of a phalanx of network news cameras. Led by subcommittee chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the committee consists primarily of New York- and New Jersey-area members of Congress.

Three panels testified, starting with a group of five local members of Congress. The second panel consisted of FAA Administrator Jane Garvey and William DeCota, director of aviation for the Port Authority of New York- and New Jersey. Finally, Robert Hazel, v-p of properties and facilities for US Airways, shared the table with Jack Olcott, president of the National Business Aviation Association.

Though each panelist and subcommittee member had an agenda to air, the bulk of the discussion concerned delays at LGA. The airport has become “a national embarrassment,” according to Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), whose district includes LGA. Mica pointed out that the three major airports in the New York area–New York’s JFK International and LGA and New Jersey’s Newark International (EWR)–account for 25 percent of delayed airline flights nationwide.

In her testimony to the committee, Administrator Garvey pointed to a number of capacity-enhancing moves over the past several months that have yielded results. She said cooperation with both Nav Canada and the U.S. military on airspace availability has resulted in some improvement with northern and western departures, respectively. But the slot lottery imposed last year received the lion’s share of the credit for improvements in the airlines’ on-time record this year over last summer’s debacle. She said ground-stop minutes are down 62 percent this summer. Garvey also credited “Mother Nature” for a less severe thunderstorm season.

Slottery Working

A proposal to extend the so-called “slottery” at LGA has received positive public comments, according to the Administrator, and will probably be extended through October next year, she said.

Putting the New York situation in perspective, the Port Authority’s DeCota pointed out that all four airports under its jurisdiction, including New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport (TEB), constitute one half the real estate of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, and one quarter the acreage of Denver International. The Port Authority’s airports account for some $40 billion in revenue and 40,000 jobs.

The committee addressed the subject of general aviation traffic at LGA by asking if banning “small private airplanes” at the airport would increase capacity. Administrator Garvey said six slots per hour had been set aside for GA aircraft, but less than half of those slots were used. Later, Olcott told the subcommittee that general aviation accounted for about 4.2 percent of traffic at LGA, adding that business aviation users do not generally want to go to La Guardia. Still, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) later said in a television interview that banning small private airplanes would help ease congestion at La Guardia.

In fact, in his opening statement, Nadler indicated that La Guardia didn’t want private aircraft. “Let them go to Teterboro,” he said, prompting some hissing within the gallery and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) to say, “I think we’ve already set off the first debate.” The New Jersey legislator later added, “We must redesign the entire system, first by taking a real Gestalt look before we start band-aiding the problems.” He also echoed Administrator Garvey’s request that an additional $4 million be added to the $8 million budgeted for the redesign project.

Teterboro Under the Gun

Teterboro, the sole general aviation reliever operated by the Port Authority, faced its own slings and arrows during the hearings. Rep. Steven Rothman (D-N.J.) represents Bergen County, where TEB is located. Rothman said the airport compromises the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of his constituents residing under its flight paths. For TEB, he called for nighttime curfews, a ban on Stage 1 and Stage 2 aircraft, prevention of any regularly scheduled service and a continuation of the restriction banning aircraft weighing more than 100,000 lb, which includes the Boeing Business Jet. Rothman is the author of House bill H.R.561, called the Aircraft Noise Reduction Act of 1999.

In his remarks, Rothman said it was a loophole in the 1991 airport noise and capacity act (ANCA) that exempted aircraft weighing less than 75,000 lb from the Stage 3 requirement that went into effect for larger aircraft in January last year. Rothman’s bill proposes Stage 3 noise standards for all aircraft but, more important, speaks to the issue of increasing state and local control over airport operations for noise abatement.

He maintained that the 1991 law requiring an FAR Part 161 study for communities to exert control over airports is unreasonable. Rothman maintains it is weighted too heavily on the side of protecting interstate commerce and not heavily enough
in favor of environmental quality-of-life issues. He said, “Such a study is virtually impossible to complete. Not one community has been able to complete a Part 161 study since 1990 [sic]. Not one.”

Stewart An Option

There were frequent references to Stewart International Airport (SWF), 55 mi north of Manhattan in Newburgh, N.Y. Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.) urged greater use of SWF, which lies in her district. She said it could provide immediate relief to airspace gridlock, if only the airlines would schedule more flights. A representative from US Airways testified that it does serve Stewart, but Kelly countered that to fly to Washington from the airport involved a routing through Raleigh-Durham, N.C., and took more than six hours.

Others cited Stewart as a large part of the answer to New York’s airspace problem, both for airlines and for business aviation. Kelly told NBAA’s Olcott, “Westchester County Airport doesn’t want you. Teterboro doesn’t want you. But Stewart Airport is ready and anxious to accept the traffic.”

While he agreed that SWF is an attractive alternative for business aviation, Olcott also pointed out that 233 NBAA member companies have facilities within 25 mi of Teterboro Airport. Those companies collectively represent $1.2 trillion in annual revenues and 31.2 million employees worldwide, many in the area around Teterboro. Olcott said curtailing or moving business aviation out of Teterboro would also mean that many of those businesses would relocate their operations. “I’m sure Rep. Rothman wouldn’t want that to happen,” said Olcott.

But Rothman was not in the room to listen to Olcott’s testimony. The NBAA president sat on the third panel to be heard by the subcommittee. After Administrator Garvey and DeCota of the Port Authority finished their testimony as members of the second panel, the television cameras followed them into the hallway to conduct the on-camera interviews that appeared on the evening news. Several members of Congress, including representatives Nadler and Rothman, followed the lights of the cameras.