News Article - September 21, 2007

  WASHINGTON The House, in passing airport fee increases on Thursday, approved an amendment aimed at overturning the Federal Aviation Administration's plan to change the take-off and landing routes at Philadelphia International Airport and other facilities in the Northeast. The amendment would require the General Accounting Office to study whether "market-based strategies" could be used instead of the FAA approach to alleviate air traffic congestion at the major Northeastern airports. The bill which would let airports increase facility-related fees on air passengers from $4.50 to $7 and raise aviation fuel taxes on corporate jets by 64 percent, to 35.9 cents per gallon passed the House 267-151. President Bush threatened to veto the $68 billion plan. The tally fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the president's objections.

   U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., and U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., sponsored the amendment that would require the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, to conduct its review. "There is great concern in my district that these new routes will negatively affect quality of life," Garrett, R-5th Dist., said during floor debate. The FAA earlier this month adopted its so-called Integrated Airspace Alternative with Integrated Control Complex. Its air space redesign plan would change the flight routes around the airports in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania for the first time since 1960. The Bush administration says the plan would reduce delays, cut noise for more than 500,000 residents and reduce jet fuel consumption and emissions of harmful pollutants.

   But residents of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Long Island have filed federal lawsuits to block the proposal before it could be put into place. One suit was filed by a group calling itself the New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise. U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews on Thursday said he believed an independent analysis from GAO would show that the FAA plan, once implemented, would not reduce flight delays at the major airports in New York City, Newark and Philadelphia. "I think the GAO is going to come out and be very, very critical of the air space redesign," said Andrews, D-1st Dist. "And then we're going to go back to the (Transportation) Committee and the FAA and say they should go back to the drawing board because it's a colossal waste of money." Garrett said he wanted the FAA to study the feasibility of "de-peaking strategies" and the adoption of "slots and quotas" that would reduce air congestion.

   Current law allows airlines to schedule more flights than an airport can handle. The de-peaking approach would let airports offer incentives to airlines that land more flights during non-peak hours of travel. The slots and quotas method would authorize the FAA, or airports themselves, to limit the number of landing spaces available to a given airline or to set quotas for a given number of flights. U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., claimed the FAA bill was needed because it would finance the launch of a new, satellite-based air traffic control system and help small airports pay for needed improvements. The legislation contains a provision that would make it easier for truck drivers and aviation mechanics employed by FedEx to form a union. It also would require the FAA and air traffic controllers to renew stalled contract talks in binding arbitration. Republicans claimed the bill would get nowhere because it included provisions that would help FedEx workers form a union and air traffic controllers negotiate a more generous contract. "Unfortunately, Democrats have insisted on including provisions that will stop this bill dead in its tracks," said U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla.

Source - NJ.Com