December 22, 2008 / 9:34 PM / 9 years ago

Voluntary cuts to LaGuardia flights sought

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. aviation regulators are pressing airlines to voluntarily trim operations at congested LaGuardia airport, after a plan to auction takeoff and landing rights at three New York airports was stayed by a court.

<p>Stranded passengers make phone calls after they failed to board as standby passengers on the final flight to Dallas Ft. Worth, Texas, at LaGuardia Airport in New York December 19, 2008. REUTERS/Jacob Silberberg</p>

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said on Monday the Federal Aviation Administration was working with carriers to cut scheduled operations at LaGuardia, the most delay-prone U.S. airport, to 71 operations per hour from 75.

LaGuardia ranked last among the 32 major U.S. airports in arrival performance in 2007 and so far in 2008, with an on-time arrival rate just above 61 percent, Peters said.

The airport ranked 28th for on-time departure performance over the first 10 months of 2008. By lowering the hourly cap on operations to 71, the government says it could cut delays by up to 41 percent.

“Too many flyers know that LaGuardia’s delays are the worst of the worst, and we want to use every tool at our disposal to help passengers stuck with this grueling congestion,” Peters said in a statement.

Major operators at LaGuardia include Delta Air Lines, US Airways and AMR Corp’s American Airlines.

The plan to auction slots was stayed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia earlier this month, pending further court review.

The slot auction plan had drawn opposition from the top airline industry group, some lawmakers and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, arguing the FAA lacked the legal authority to auction the slots.

The persistent problem of air delays caused by LaGuardia will soon pass to the administration of President-elect Barack Obama, who will be sworn in January 20.

The Bush administration gave the airlines and the public 10 days to comment on the voluntary plan, under which the lowered cap would take effect in April and last through October 24.

Transportation Department General Counsel D.J. Gribbin told reporters on a conference call that something had to be done now as the court was unlikely to decide the auction issue until after the peak summer travel season had passed.

“We’ve had strong support from at least one carrier to reduce operations into LaGuardia and interest from the others,” Gribbin said, without identifying the airlines.

Peters said the government had already taken many actions to reduce congestion in and out of New York, from opening military airspace to redesigning airspace and other operational improvements.

But the Air Transport Association of America said it was concerned the FAA was not doing enough to cut delays in New York air space.

“We all want New York metropolitan airports to run more efficiently,” ATA spokesman David Castelveter said in an emailed statement.

Reporting by Tim Dobbyn; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Gunna Dickson

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