DOT's congestion problem gets cool reception

 - July 8, 2008, 5:30 AM

The Transportation Department’s plan to manage congestion at New York’s three area airports drew criticism from industry witnesses and members of Congress last month, and the head of the airline lobby once again used the forum to blame business aviation as a “significant contributor” to delays in the Northeast corridor.

Testifying at a House aviation subcommittee hearing on “Congestion Management in the New York Airspace,” Air Transportation Association (ATA) president and CEO James May claimed in prepared testimony that non-air carriers accounted for 20 to 30 percent of the peak level of instrument approach operations at the New York Tracon, which serves Newark, La Guardia, JFK and 12 outlying towered airports.

The subcommittee hearing focused on the DOT’s efforts to impose administrative caps and initiate slot auctions at New York’s three main airports, a proposal that was opposed by every panelist except the one representing DOT.

“DOT should devote all of the resources necessary right now to implement the New York airspace redesign and related initiatives,” May said. “Work with the Port Authority and others to implement the near-term capacity enhancements identified by the New York ARC; work with the Department of Defense and Congress…to open new airways on a permanent basis; and accelerate development and implementation of technologies to bring us to the NextGen air traffic management system.”

A ‘Flawed’ Plan

William DeCota, the director of aviation for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which operates the three major New York airports, called the DOT proposal flawed.

He explained that the authority is pushing several initiatives to enhance capacity at La Guardia and the New York-area airports, including further airfield pavement projects to improve the efficiency of the airport and planning a new central terminal building to increase gate size at La Guardia.

Douglas Lavin, regional v-p of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said that while the FAA has been addressing congestion with technology and rulemaking procedure improvements recommended by the New York Aviation Rulemaking Committee, the DOT has been pursuing a “quixotic mission” to use the New York challenge to impose its free market pricing views on the industry.

“After three months of ARC meetings, DOT was apparently surprised to find that it was not able to convince the airlines serving New York…that peak pricing and slot auctions were the best way to manage congestion at the airports,” he said.
AOPA noted that under the proposal, general aviation would be limited to three operations per hour during congested periods.

The association is asking the FAA to suspend the slot auction proposal and allow additional public comment when it has re-evaluated the proposal.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is introducing legislation to prevent the DOT plan from being implemented. The “Access to Air Travel Act” would block the DOT from imposing proposals harmful to small and medium-size community air service, he said.

The Port Authority, the Airports Council International-North America, ATA, the Regional Airline Association and IATA support the legislation.