Air Transport World

Airport slot allocation: the growing crisis in the U.S.

"Our heat of scheduling went to play golf in Florida (with another airline official) and we thought we had a deal on slots. But the golf course deal fell through."

That comment by an official of a new airline is an example of the Byzantine world of obtaining operating rights at the nation's congested airports. Trying to outfox the Federal Aviation Administration's limits at certain airports, combined with the need to keep a step ahead of the competition, has created a full-time job for people once productively employed in other facets of airline operations. The situation is so acute, in fact, that both industry and government are seriously considering a permanent policy of allocating slots by putting them up for grabs in the free market.

The problem of rationing demand for this limited resource is not new. In April 1969 the FAA established the so-called "high-density" rule for flights into and out of five airports--Chicago O'Hare, the three New York area airports and Washington National--because the air traffic control system could not cope with the demand. Subsequently some of the restrictions were eased, but along came the 1981 air traffic controllers strike, and restrictions were imposed at another 18 airports, supposedly temporarily. Even without the strike, though, there were growing concerns that under normal economic conditions the demands of new airlines potentially meant trouble for the airspace and airport system.

Ever since deregulation the Civil Aeronautics Board has demanded that space in the air and on the ground be made available to new entrants. It believes that unless space is made for them incumbent airlines will quash competition. Federal budget squeeze

Former FAA Administrator J. Lynn Helms promised that there would be plenty of room for them and everyone else under his grand scheme for ATC. Despite the strike the system would be built back up to accommodate everybody, big and small, new and old, commercial and non-commercial. …

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