The Federal Aviation Administration wisely decided to retain an hourly cap on operations at New Yorks LaGuardia Airport, limiting the airlines to 75 operations per hour for most of the day.

Better yet, the FAA is putting the airlines on notice that it expects them to make efficient use of those 75 take-offs and landings and to refrain from the frivolous use of itty-bitty airplanes. To that end, it proposes to start measuring the airlines average aircraft size at LaGuardia and penalize carriers that dont measure up.

According to the FAA, a fair share of the airports current delay problems stem from an increased use of regional jets.

This would be acceptable if the smaller aircraft were being used to support travel to and from small communities, but the FAA said too many of these aircraft are being used on routes to big towns and airline hubs like Philadelphia, Baltimore and Raleigh, N.C.

We dont believe the government has any business telling airline managements where to fly or what kind of airplane to use, but the FAA has a mandate to promote the safe and efficient use of the nations airspace, and this is an efficiency issue.

Given the impossibility of adding runways to hemmed-in airports such as LaGuardia, how can the government encourage airlines to use bigger aircraft in order to accommodate more travelers?

One obvious answer is to look for market mechanisms that would encourage this kind of efficiency, such as a congestion pricing scheme under which airlines would pay access fees at an airport, pegged to the level of congestion.

The FAA said it would seek congressional authority to bring about such a scenario and experiment with other options, such as slot auctions. But in the meantime, requiring carriers to increase the average size of aircraft at LaGuardia seems like a fair interim step.

Our biggest gripe about the proposal is that it wouldnt start until 2009. Why wait?

New beginnings

Summer is ending, but theres always a sense of new beginnings at this time of year   --   kids are back in school and people are back from vacations. Everybody is getting down to business.

However, this week is sandwiched between the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a situation that could temper ones optimism. Fresh from grim reminders of how much remains undone in New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, were about to see and hear many reminders of the events of 9/11 along with much analysis and commentary.

If you need some reminders that the solemn mood should be temporary, here are some large and small signs that new beginnings are everywhere: Cendants travel businesses are newly independent companies; Amtrak has a new president; the Southwest Airlines Vacation brand has a new destination, Hawaii; Delta will soon be in the New York-London market; America West and US Airways are finally merging their inventory codes, as a precursor to using a common reservations system; numerous travel companies from Intrawest to Brendan Vacations are getting new owners; Windstar is refurbishing its fleet; and new hotel concepts are springing up everywhere. 

The next season on our calendar may be fall, but in the travel business, signs of renewal are all around us.  

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