2000-11-29 / Front Page

Boro Bd. Raps LaGuardia Lottery

Boro Bd. Raps LaGuardia Lottery

Gazette Photo
The number of flights in and out of LaGuardia has increased substantially since the enactment of Air 21, a new federal law.
Gazette Photo The number of flights in and out of LaGuardia has increased substantially since the enactment of Air 21, a new federal law.

by linda j.wilson

A proposed lottery system to relieve flight congestion at LaGuardia Airport was greeted considerably less than enthusiastically at the November meeting of the Queens Borough Board last Monday. Not only does the likelihood of a collision either in the air or on the ground increase with each additional flight, board members maintained, but the pollution that has given rise to one of the highest incidences of asthma cases in the United States will only be made worse.

"Children and senior citizens are the ones most susceptible to asthma, and Queens has large number of both groups. Meanwhile, you can see pollution coming out of the rear end of every aircraft that takes off from LaGuardia," City Councilmember Julia Harrison pointed out. "And a collision is just as dangerous in the air as on the ground. We're playing with people's lives."

Hugh Weinberg, counsel in the office of Borough President Claire Shulman, told the board that since Air 21, a new federal law providing more access to LaGuardia by new and small air carriers as well as to airlines serving certain smaller markets by means of smaller aircraft was enacted in April, the number of flights in and out of LaGuardia has increased substantially. Carriers have filed exemption requests for more than 600 new daily flights, and plans have been announced for 28 new daily flights in December and 23 more in January. If the December and January flights begin operations, an increase of 30 percent will be represented at an airport already experiencing far more delays than any other in the United States, Weinberg said.

Delay conditions have worsened since Air 21 was signed into law: September saw more than 9,000 flight delays, more than 25 percent of the flight delays in the U.S.. Average delays for afternoon flights in September exceeded 48 minutes. "The average delay on the ground can exceed the time in the air for a flight," Weinberg said. Carriers routinely cancel schedule flights, especially in the afternoon and evening, to avoid more delays on other flights.

The congestion in the wake of the passage of Air 21 led the Federal Aviation Administration to play down its former claim that it has no jurisdiction over how local airports are managed and propose with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates JFK and Newark Airports, as well as LaGuardia, that a flight lottery be instituted.

The lottery will lower the number of scheduled flights to 75 per hour during slot-controlled hours, limiting exemptions under Air 21 to 150 a day. The 200 daily flights added since the passage of Air 21 will be eliminated and replaced by 150 new flights by way of a lottery. Only carriers who filed for slot exemptions and are eligible under the provisions of Air 21 will be allowed to participate.

The lottery itself will be conducted in four rounds. During the first round, only new and small carriers will participate. Each participant will select four slot exemption times, two arrivals and two departures. During the second and third rounds, only carriers providing service to underserved communities may participate. Each carrier will select two slot exemption times, one arrival and one departure, in each round. In the fourth and subsequent rounds, all carriers eligible under Air 21 will participate. They will select two slot exemption times, one arrival and one departure, until a total of 150 exemption times have been selected.

Weinberg stressed that the lottery is a short-term solution and that the FAA would attempt to determine and implement what he termed a 'long-term market solution to the congestion and delay problems." This might include measures such as assessment of a surtax on new flights during peak travel times. He also acknowledged that a long-term solution must be found to maintain LaGuardia's status as the most important business travelers' airport in the country and a major economic engine for the region. "There's not a lot of market for late-night flights," he noted.

The noise concomitant upon the flights, even though their number would be reduced by 50, was another problem addressed by Weinberg and the board. "The borough president recognizes that noise is the biggest problem," Weinberg said. Quieter Stage II aircraft have been mandated by the FAA and older planes equipped with hush kits to lower their noise output, although some at the meeting questioned the kits' effectiveness.

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