October 10, 2008

Auctions of Airport Landing Slots Set ; Port Authority Will Seek Injunction to Block DOT Move


Government-ordered auctions of airport landing and takeoff rights -- opposed by airlines, New Jersey lawmakers and the Port Authority - - are set to begin Jan. 12.

Eighteen slots at Newark Liberty International Airport could be available now that the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Justice have determined that the auction is legal, said D. J. Gribbon, the general counsel for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"We're very confident that we have the legal authority to do this," Gribbon said in a conference call to reporters Thursday. "None of the critics have come up with their own plan."

The Port Authority, however, reiterated its opposition to the auction plan and said it would seek an injunction from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to block the move.

"We believe the right way to reduce delays is to replace a 1950s- era air traffic control system with investments in 21st-century technology, expanding capacity and improving customer service," said Anthony Coscia, Port Authority chairman.

An independent dispute resolution office within the FAA had suspended auctioning slots a month ago at Newark, La Guardia and John F. Kennedy airports so legal arguments against them could be studied.

The DOT announced in May a plan to require airlines at Newark and JFK to put a small portion of their slots up for auction as a way to increase competition and lower fares. Ninety-one of the 1,154 slots at Newark will be auctioned over the next five years, Gribbon said.

DOT Secretary Mary Peters has said the sales would mitigate the upward pressure on fares caused by government-imposed flight caps at JFK and Newark, which are among the most congested airports in the country.

The Air Transport Association petitioned a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., earlier this year for a review of the legality of the auction plan. The airlines also complain that the auction plan does not take into account the billions of dollars they have spent building terminals and gates.

Five carriers -- Continental Airlines, US Airways, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines -- have made regulatory filings protesting the auction plan.

The Port Authority -- operator of Newark, JFK and La Guardia airports -- has vowed not to provide gate access for auction winners.


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