- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 30, 2002

The Transportation Department is reviving its pre-September 11 proposals for easing air-traffic congestion that would force airlines to pay higher fees for landing at the most popular airports and during peak travel times.
The department is soliciting comments from airlines and passengers about the best "market-based approach" to spread flight schedules evenly throughout the day as a means of reducing delays.
Any new rules would apply to only the most congested airports, such as New York's LaGuardia Airport or Chicago's O'Hare International Airport.
The Transportation Department also has considered auctioning landing slots to airlines. The slots are similar to time-share arrangements at vacation resorts. Each airline pays a fee to land or take off within a specific time frame.
Other proposals include raising the rent and other fees at large airports to encourage airlines to use smaller regional airports and limiting flights at some airports.
Bill Mosley, Transportation Department spokesman, described the pricing proposals as "alternatives to airlines just getting in line and letting them take off when air-traffic control lets them."
Although the number of airline passengers remains below levels before the September 11 attack, the March figures showed the smallest percentage decline since September, according to the Air Transport Association, an airline industry group. Major U.S. airlines carried 46.5 million passengers in March, down 10.2 percent from the 51.8 million of a year earlier.
"This is looking ahead at a time when air traffic gets back to pre-September 11 levels," Mr. Mosley said. "It's growing already."
The comment period, which was announced in the Federal Register last week, closes July 22.
"Basically we're just asking the public and the industry for what kinds of things we ought to look at," Mr. Mosley said.
As congestion increases, additional airports could be subjected to the pricing rules.
"It really didn't apply to our airports here," said Tom Sullivan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. "They're not really that bad here. Everybody has some congestion, but not to the extent that peak pricing would be one of the alternatives."
The airline industry is critical of any proposals that would increase their operating costs.
"It would take a huge increase in landing fees to change anybody's behavior," said David Swierenga, chief economist for the Air Transport Association. "The airlines believe that the solution isn't simply to charge higher prices for scarce landing resources, it's to expand the airports to meet the level of demand. It's an interim step that we believe just doesn't work."

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