By NICK ABADJIAN
As Queens elected officials went to Washington this week to commend the
Federal Aviation Administrations lottery to curb air traffic and runway delays at
LaGuardia Airport, some still felt that although congestion in the skies over the borough
may not get worse, it may not exactly get better either.
"The FAA has taken a modest step, and are to be commended, but
there are still too many flights," said Congressman Anthony Weiner on the heels of
the announcement of the lottery an FAA effort designed to reduce congestion at
According to the FAA, congestion at LaGuardia was responsible for a
quarter of the nations flight delays in September 2000.
Officials said that LaGuardia airport was on its way to gaining an
estimated 300 new daily flights by the end of the year until the FAA put a lid on it in
the form of the lottery which is anticipated to limit the number of extra flights to 159.
OF AIR WITH NO CASH WINNERS
For what has been called the
"safety and the movement of air traffic," the FAA decided to conduct a lottery
among the airlines filing for air slots opened by the AIR-21 ruling passed in Congress
earlier this year.
The lottery took place at FAAs
Washington headquarters on Monday Dec. 4 and allocated to LaGuardia 159 air slots, which
were divided among 13 carriers.
The High Density Rule extension sought to enforce flight
restrictions at LaGuardia and JFK airports.
Tribune Photos By Ira Cohen
The allocated air slots will take
effect on Jan. 15, 2001 and last through Sept. 15, 2001.
But some feel that the lottery is only a
short-term solution that will not end LaGuardias woes just yet.
"The lottery is not a cure-all for the
congestion at LaGuardia," said Jim Peters, spokesperson for the FAA. "The
lottery was designed to alleviate some congestion, but even before AIR-21, LaGuardia was
one of the busiest airports in the country."
Queens Congress members, and Borough
President Claire Shulman testified at a hearing before the House Transportation and
Infrastructure Subcommittee on Aviation about the lottery on Tuesday.
The Queens delegates applauded the
FAAs efforts to remedy LaGuardias congestion, but the subcommittee questioned
the FAA authority to conduct the lottery.
"We need to further scale back flights
to and from LaGuardia. We must impose a curfew after 11 p.m., and push the industry into
developing even quieter engines," said Congressman Joe Crowley before a Congressional
"Presently, there is a takeoff and
landing at LaGuardia every 30 seconds," said Congressman Gary Ackerman who
questioned, "how much more can we push the envelope?"
RUILING THAT STARTED A 'FEEDING FRENZY'
In March of this year,
Congress passed a bill called AIR-21 designed to lift flight restrictions placed on
start-up and regional airlines on adding additional flights to small cities.
The result was "a complete
feeding frenzy at LaGuardia" as described by Congressman Joseph Crowley .
Following the passage of Air-21, airlines
filed for 600 new flights at LaGuardia and, as of Nov. 1, the airport was operating 200 of
those new flights, according to the FAA.
In September, the Port Authority of New
York And New Jersey (PA), which operates the airport, invoked a temporary moratorium on
new flights during peak hours, yet the delays persist, officials said.
Some Queens elected officials dont feel the
FAAs lottery will curb air traffic congestion over LaGuardia Airport.
"Unfortunately, no one could
have anticipated that the major carriers would act so vigorously to defend their
competitive position at LaGuardia Airport by adding so many flights so as to exact huge
economic consequences on the flying public and on the very same small airlines and small
cities that the bill was intended to assist," said William DeCota, director of
aviation for the PA.
"The present situation at LaGuardia is
a death sentence waiting for victims. The passengers who fly in and out of the airport are
placed at risk for the sake of profits," said Congressman Gary Ackerman, who
explained that he recently spent six hours grounded at LaGuardia following a three-hour
flight from Florida.
"We cannot wait for mid-air collisions
over the New York skyline to do something about LaGuardias unsafe level of
operations. Do we really need to see planes crashing into Shea Stadium, Long Island Sound
or the Empire State Building before saying oops?" Ackerman said.
According to the FAA, some
flights experience an average ground delay time that exceeds the scheduled flight time
with LaGuardia even on good weather days experiencing as many as 600 flight
"These delays are translated into
disrupted airline schedules, cancellations and frustrated air travelers across the
US," said Jane Garvey, administrator to the FAA in a letter to the Port Authority.
The Thanksgiving holiday weekend last month
was quite a crunch with an estimated 408,000 people using LaGuardia according to the PA.
Rain and fog banded together on the Sunday
after Thanksgiving to create afternoon flight delays of 2 1/2 hours said PA spokesman Greg
The following day, LaGuardia reached a peak
of 1,456 operations, which consists of takeoffs and landings.
AIR-21 BILL: GOOD OR BAD?
Passengers and area
residents contend that delays and flight cancellations have plagued LaGuardia ever since
AIR-21 was implemented in April.
Short for H.R. 1000, the Wendell H. Ford
Aviation Investment Reform Act of the 21st Century, AIR-21 was passed by Congress in
The bills intent was to make skies
safer, modernize air traffic control, reduce flight delays and boost airline competition.
"Air travelers are the big
winners," said Congressman Bud Shuster of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House
Transportation and Infrastructure committee, after the bill was signed. "With AIR-21,
the money the traveling public pays in ticket taxes will finally be dedicated solely to
improving the safety and efficiency of our aviation system. This legislation will go a
long way toward relieving our overburdened aviation system."
AIR-21 is a three-year bill that increased
the governments investment towards aviation by $10 billion. The investment is
intended for radar modernization and airport construction projects.
"AIR-21 is a good piece of legislation
that is respective of JFK and protective of those people that live around JFK," said
Mike McKay, spokesman for Congressman Gregory Meeks, whose 6th district includes JFK
airport. AIR-21 pumped $14 million into the district for improving the airport and sound
proofing the schools.
McKay said he knows what its like to
live around an airport because his parents live in Rockaway, practically in
"JFKs backyard." McKay explained that a very important part of AIR-21 is
that it extended the High Density Rule which enforces flight restrictions.
The High Density Rule is a regulation that
began limiting the number of air slots at LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy
airports in 1969.
Current administration and congressional
leadership were looking at removing the High Density Rule before a compromise was met and
AIR-21 extended the High Density Rule for LaGuardia and JFK until 2007.
"It stopped the bleeding," said
McKay. "If it wasnt for Congressman Meeks and his colleagues [who signed for
AIR-21 and pushed for the extension of the High Density Rule], our constituents would have
more 747s roaring over them."
Borough President Claire Shulman, who
lobbied against the part of AIR-21 that loosened air restrictions, teamed up with the
Giuliani Administration and sued the US Department of Transportation (DOT) in a federal
court for not overseeing the implementation of AIR-21 in a responsible way.
"The US DOT did not require
environmental impact studies before allowing hundreds of new flights to be added at New
Yorks airports, which are located in densely populated areas," said Shulman.
Congress has made some exceptions to High
Density Rule, in order to promote competition and spur startups and regional airliners
that served small cities.
AIR-21 allowed for an unlimited amount of
exemptions to airlines that have less than 20 slots at LaGuardia.
It also exempted carriers serving small
airports with airplanes having less than 71 passenger seats.
Yet, of the more than 600 requests for the AIR-21 slots,
over 530 of these flights were filed by major airlines.