The Air Transport Association the trade organization for the U.S. airlines industry is turning to Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr for its planned lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation, says ATA spokesman David Castelveter.
On Tuesday, the ATA announced its intent to sue the Bush administration over the Transportation Department’s plan to auction off arrival and departure time-slots at Newark Liberty International Airport. The ATA has not yet filed the suit, but Castelveter says it will do so “soon.”
This won’t be the first time the ATA has relied on Wilmer. D.C. partner Seth Waxman successfully represented the association in its appeal of New York State’s passenger bill of rights earlier this year.
The ATA is the principal lobbying organization for U.S. commercial airlines, and typically relies on relationships within the Transportation Department. Threatening to sue the department, it seems, puts the ATA in a tough spot.
But Castelveter says, at this point, there’s not much to lose: “The relationship with this administration is already strained. This administration has done very little to improve the air travel experience.”
The Transportation Department announced its plans for the Newark airport, which sits just outside of New York, on Tuesday. According to a statement from the agency, airlines will be asked to bid on a five-year lease to operate a roundtrip flight to and from Newark during prime time-slots. The auction is scheduled for Sept. 3. Commercial airlines have historically leased and traded such slots as their own property.
The plan stems from an ongoing debate about how to ease traffic congestion at the three famously busy airports that service New York City: Newark, John F. Kennedy International Airport, and LaGuardia Airport. The Transportation Department’s statement says funds from the auction “will be used to reduce delays and enhance capacity at New York-area airports.”
But Castelveter says if the intent is to reduce air traffic, it doesn’t make sense to offer up additional flight times, which will only add to the congestion. Not to mention, as reported in this New York Times article, the airlines say they simply can’t afford to bid for time slots. Castelveter says the Bush administration has acknowledged in the past that it doesn’t have the authority to hold such an auction.