- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — The managers of New York City’s three crowded airports vowed Monday to block a Bush administration experiment to reduce flight delays across the country by auctioning off takeoff and landing slots. A federal official said the airports had no such power and hinted they may lose funding if they don’t back down.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a legal notice stating it will not accept any flights at its three major airports - John F. Kennedy, Newark Liberty International, and LaGuardia - that are the result of a government auction of takeoff and landing slots.

The Bush administration has championed a limited auction of takeoff and landing slots at those airports to reduce flight delays , which have a cascade effect, causing spillover delays nationwide.

U.S. airports saw near-record delays last year, and the government says two out of three flights delayed 15 minutes or more were caused by a backup in New York’s jammed airspace.

As public frustration with air travel increased, the White House demanded action, and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced the auction slot plan. The Port Authority, a bistate agency, vehemently opposes it.

The Port Authority claims that, as the airport manager, it has the right to disallow departures or arrivals that are issued by auction or similar process. Such a claim could ultimately end in a legal fight between the U.S. government and the quasi-public agency that operates the New York City area’s airports.

The Department of Transportation’s top lawyer, D.J. Gribbin, said the move “boldly violates” the Port Authority’s funding agreements with the Federal Aviation Administration - meaning a continued standoff could result in the loss of money to rebellious airports.

“I’m not surprised by their opposition to auctions. What is somewhat surprising is they think they have the legal authority” to block certain flights, Mr. Gribbin said.

The Port Authority’s aviation director, Bill DeCota, said that if the administration proceeds with its plan, “I can guarantee there’s going to be a great deal of legal action against them.”

And any plane arriving via an auctioned slot would be barred from using gates or ground facilities at their airports, he added.

“We’re not going to allow it to come to a terminal,” Mr. DeCota said.

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