The good people who operate LaGuardia Airport think they have their hands full, and they probably do.

There's not enough space on the ground or in the air, and not enough minutes in the day, to accommodate every airline that wants to take off and land, every traveler who wants to fly. There are not enough soothing words for the residents of the borough of Queens about the road congestion and the noise generated by 1,000 flights a day. There's not enough of anything, except passengers. They're everywhere, every day, close to 25 million a year.

And at the dawn of the 21st century, the airport is still subject to federal controls on the number of hourly take-offs and landings -- adopted in the mid-1960s as a temporary measure to ease congestion.

Nope, we wouldn't want to be in the shoes of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. And if we were in those shoes, we might take umbrage if a Senate committee headed by a guy from Arizona cooked up a law that phases out the slot controls by 2007, while requiring us to find room for several hundred more flights per day in the meantime.

But the law was passed, and the airlines are looking to add flights.

The port authority responded to these events by notifying the airlines that it will not allow the new flights to operate during certain morning and afternoon hours that are already seen as too congested.

The port authority's critics say this attempt to impose a moratorium steps on the federal toe, and we agree. The last time we looked, the FAA was supposed to be running the air traffic control system.

LaGuardia isn't the only airport in the country coping with the congestion and delay generated by a hyperactive airline industry. Clearly, the national air transportation system needs more capacity and better management in the air and on the ground. That will require federal and local cooperation and consultation with the industry, not unilateral local edicts.

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