Hutchison opposes plan to auction airport slots

August 5, 2008 6:19:30 PM PDT
Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has entered the fray over congestion at three New York City-area airports by siding with the airlines and airport officials and opposing the Bush administration. Hutchison recently moved into the job as the top Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has jurisdiction over aviation operations.

She opposes the Transportation Department's plan announced Tuesday to auction a prized takeoff and landing slot at Newark Liberty International airport in New Jersey next month and to hold similar auctions for slots at the LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy airports in New York.

The Air Transport Association, which represents the nation's largest airlines, vowed to sue to block the auction scheduled for Sept. 3.

Hutchison, Texas' senior senator, asked Transportation Secretary Mary Peters in a letter sent Tuesday to cease action on the plan and consider the "disruption and litigation" it could cause.

Congress is on its summer break through Sept. 8. A bill that would block the auctions is pending in Congress.

Hutchison told Peters the administration does not have the authority to carry out the auctions and the timing is troubling.

"Given the current fragility of the U.S. airline industry, we believe it is not the time to move forward with such a new, untested, unproven and unauthorized policy," she said in the letter signed by three other senators.

Other signatories were Sens. Dan Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; and Ted Stevens, R-Ala. Rockefeller is chairman and Hutchison is ranking Republican on the committee's aviation operations subcommittee.

The plan calls for the government to require carriers at the three airports to auction existing takeoff and landing slots over the next five years and possibly retire others. Also, limits would be imposed on the number of flights at peak hours.

Government officials say the plan will allow market forces to reduce inefficiencies and make air travel more reliable. Opponents say it will make the system more expensive and reduce service to medium and small airports.

Houston-based Continental Airlines Inc. and American Airlines, owned by Fort Worth, Texas-based AMR Corp., are some of the biggest air carriers in those airports. Employees and officials of both carriers are or have been contributors to Hutchison.

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