Opponents Hail Victory... But Agency Doesn't Have To Heed
The GAO has spoken...
saying the Federal Aviation Administration has no legal authority
to auction off takeoff and landing slots at the nation's largest
airports. But how much weight that ruling actually carries remains
murky at best.
The Associated Press reports the Government Accountability
Office issued its ruling Tuesday, saying the FAA does not
have a legal right to impose its slot auction plan at New
"We conclude that FAA may not auction slots under its property
disposition authority, user fee authority, or any other authority,
and thus also may not retain or use proceeds of any such auctions,"
GAO general counsel Gary Kepplinger said in a letter to opponents
of the slot auction plan.
Kepplinger also questioned the FAA's decision to claim airspace
as its property... the first time the agency has taken that
position in 40 years, and a view the GAO's top lawyer says is in
direct contradiction to FAA bylaws.
As ANN reported, the FAA delayed its plan to
hold a trial slot auction at Newark International Airport last
month. The FAA's plan was to allow carriers to bid on two landing
slots previously allocated to EOS Airlines, which went bankrupt and
folded its wings earlier this year.
That auction was intended to test the theory that similar slot
auctions at the three largest New York-area airports would help
combat ramp congestion and flight delays. However, in August the
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey boldly confronted the
Department of Transportation... saying the airports under its
authority would refuse to accept any flights using slots acquired
via such auctions.
The FAA asked for a legal
opinion on PANYNJ's proposed action; in turn, slot auction
opponents -- including the Air Transport Association, PANYNJ,
Airports Council International-North America, and New York Senator
Chuck Schumer -- asked the GAO to weigh in on the matter.
"This once again shows that the DOT needs to put a stop to this
ideological battle that would cause chaos at New York airports. The
administration has tried to jam through a half-baked plan that
can't even be implemented," said Schumer, one of the most bombastic
and outspoken critics of the agency.
Brian Turmail, spokesman for the DOT, responds the GAO's
decision was rushed, and ill-informed. "Should Congress give the
agency an opportunity to conduct a more thorough review, we are
confident that GAO will better understand both the validity and the
effectiveness of our approach," read a prepared written statement
Though the watchdog agency carries significant authority, in the
strictest sense the GAO's legal opinion is just that -- an
opinion, and one that is technically non-binding. As a case in
point, shortly after the GAO released its findings, the FAA lifted
its own stay on the Newark slot auction plan... meaning the agency
may opt to proceed with the Newark auctions, unless opponents throw
up another legal barrier.
And don't think for a minute they're not trying to do exactly