FAA Proposes Rescission of Congestion Management Rules for JFK, LaGuardia and Newark

The Federal Aviation Administration today proposed to rescind the congestion management rules for JFK, LaGuardia and Newark that would have created auctions for slots at those airports.  (Click here for the JFK and Newark proposal, click here for the LaGuardia proposal)  Those rules were ardently opposed by the airlines as well as by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  These proposed rules would rescind the previous rules regarding the slot auctions, although it would not rescind the order limiting scheduled operations at the airports to 81 operations per hour.  That order remains in place until October, 2009.

Although the FAA admits that the Congestion Management Rules was “highly controversial,” it does not admit that its position with respect to the FAA’s intangible property rights to the slots was necessarily wrong.  The FAA states that a series of events led to its decision to rescind the rules.  First, in December, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order staying the rule. Then, the Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009, passed on March 11, 2009, contained a provision denying any funds to implement the auctions. Those two setbacks coupled with the souring economy, the FAA realized that “the halt in funding for this fiscal year makes it impossible for the rule to have the 10-year life originally contemplated, even without considering the challenging and widespread change in current economic conditions that led to the adoption of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.”  Thus:

Because of the complexity of the issues, the uncertainty caused by the Omnibus Appropriations Act, and the possible impact of the significantly changed economic circumstances on the slot auction program, the FAA believes it would be better to rescind the rule rather than propose to extend it.  Rescission would also eliminate the potential for wasting resources of all parties in the pending litigation.

Put off for another day, however, is the issue of whether government licenses are property.  The proposed rules simply state that the FAA is “in the process of considering its options with regard to managing congestion at the airport[s] in ways that provide a means for carriers to either commence or expand operations at the airport[s], thereby introducing more competition and service options to benefit the traveling public.”  Thus, slot auctions may be off the table for the time being – at least until the the funding restriction of the Omnibus Appropriations Act expires on September 30, 2009 – but the FAA has not yet totally abandoned the idea.

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