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Gridlock over how to end flight gridlock

The airlines balk after the FAA proposes congestion pricing and flight caps for airports in the New York area.

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It all sounded so easy.

There is a problem: record delays and congestion at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, which ripple through airports across the country. There was an apparent solution: a big meeting among the airlines, the airport managers, and federal regulators to address it. But there's also a reason for sayings like "The devil's in the details."

Intensive meetings last week did yield some results. JetBlue and Delta agreed to shift their schedules to help alleviate congestion during peak periods, and other airlines are weighing similar steps.

But the message for public consumption was clear: The airlines, the airport managers, and more than a dozen business and cultural institutions enlisted to support them are outraged by what they see as failure by the Federal Aviation Administration to prevent the problem in the first place. On Friday, they blasted the FAA and, in particular, the agency's top two proposed solutions: congestion pricing, which would charge airlines more to land during peak periods, and mandatory caps that would reduce by 20 percent the current 100 departing flights per hour.

"There are so many losers from caps, but there is arguably one winner – the federal government, which gets off the hook easy," says Anthony Shorris, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the region's three major airports. "It's a cheap, fast, easy purported solution that allows the federal government to walk away from its responsibilities to make America's air-traffic system what it should be."

While all say they remain committed to working cooperatively to resolve the problem, the heated reaction seemed to take the FAA by surprise. The agency's first statement touted the cooperative process, but also drew the FAA's own line in the sand.


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