More trouble for NYC airports

A few months ago the FAA announced that they would be implementing slot controls for the NYC airports to help reduce the systemic delays that the city experiences (Story 1; Story 2).  By limiting airlines to only scheduling the number of flights that can actually take off and land in a given time frame there was a small chance that the system would actually operate smoothly at least part of the time.

That plan is now on hold as the Port Authority, with the support of Senator Chuck Schumer, have refused to go along with the government plan.  Schumer took a very reasonable approach to the proposal in his response:

The D.O.T. appears hell-bent on jamming this unworkable plan down the throats of the Port Authority and New York City air travelers, but we are going to fight them every step of the way. The Port Authority is absolutely right to block the D.O.T.’s efforts. The bottom line is this harebrained, untested scheme will cause chaos at our airports, raise fares, and reduce travel options and not ease delays one bit. The D.O.T. needs to back down from this crusade and finally take the obvious steps of updating antiquated technology and fully staffing New York’s air traffic control towers so we can finally deliver some long overdue relief.

OK…maybe not at all reasonable.  Yes, the technology is in desperate need of updates.  Yes, we need more controllers.  Yes, we need to adjust the routings of planes to allow for more efficient use of the airspace around the airports.  But none of those are going to happen this month.  Odds are none of those are going to happen this year, or even in the next 5 years.  But in the mean time, Schumer feels that it is in the best interests of New York and the rest of the country to continue under a system that is actually operating at worse levels than Chicago did in 2000/2001, and that is hard to do.

The FAA, for its part, points out that they’re talking about very few slots, and that they are going to pretty much allow the folks who are already flying to the airports to keep doing so:

Although market-based mechanisms are the most effective way to allocate scarce resources—like slots—we have taken a very conservative approach to introducing these mechanisms with this proposal. The vast majority of hourly operations at the airport, as much as 90 percent or more, would be “grandfathered” and leased to the existing operators for non-monetary consideration. The market-based aspect of our proposal involves auctioning off leases for only a limited number of the remaining slots.

So the FAA slot controls are in place now, but they cannot actually assign any new slots it seems.  And we’re getting no closer to actually solving any of the problems, but claiming that it is in the best interest of the public.  Come on Chuck…get a clue.  Actually he’s my senator.  Maybe I’ll give him a call tomorrow and tell him how stupid his plan is. 

Slot controls work just fine all over the world, including the ability for the airline who owns the slot to sell it to someone else if they want to.  There are plenty of problems at London’s Heathrow, but the slot control system and resale market there works just fine.  Sure, you don’t want to be Continental who paid $209MM to get their 4 pairs of slots, but that’s what the market dictates.  And anything is better than what we have now.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.