GAO calls slot auction plan illegal

The FAA on Tuesday lifted its self-imposed stay on a plan to auction slots at New York-area airports -- just as the Government Accountability Office announced there was no legal basis for the auctions. "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 wrote to lawmakers. "This once again shows that the DOT needs to put a stop to this ideological battle that would cause chaos at New York airports," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.. "This report shows it is completely illegal," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who called on the Bush administration to scrap the auction and focus on other ways to relieve congestion. Airlines and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which also applauded the GAO decision, noted the need to explore other avenues. "We urge the FAA to put their focus and attention on increasing capacity and airspace redesign to make progress in actually reducing delays," said ATA President and CEO James May. A spokesman for the Transportation Department said the GAO report showed an "unfamiliarity with the complexities of aviation law," and that the auctions would continue as planned.

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