Small airlines say they cannot acquire desirable slots or scarce gates at some of the nation's busiest airports because of "hoarding" by larger rivals with long-term contracts. It's a complaint that has found some sympathy at the FAA, which continues to explore methods for doling out slots, despite opposition by legacy airlines and airport authorities. "I know the airlines have some disagreement with our decision on this, but the FAA position is that we own the slots," says Robert E. Robeson, head of the agency's policy-analysis division. But history shows that market forces can work in favor of smaller airlines: JetBlue Airways, once viewed as an upstart discounter, will soon be the largest carrier at Boston Logan International Airport.

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