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U.S. DOT May Cap Air Traffic for JFK, Newark

The federal government may put a cap on the number of flights in and out of two of the nation's busiest airports: John F. Kennedy in New York and Newark, in New Jersey. The idea is to relieve the gridlock that often starts there and ripples across the country.

The resulting congestion caused the worst summer of flight delays and led to a record number of missed connections. On Wednesday, Congress will hold hearings on the issue.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the airlines are over-scheduling flights at peak hours and the air traffic control is overloaded. The airlines say customers want cheap and convenient flights.

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The airlines are trying to save money by using smaller planes, which are easier to fill. There is no extra charge for the extra burden the smaller planes cause for airports and the air-traffic-control system — there is no user fee, only a tax on passengers tickets.

So, there is no penalty for clogging the airports with lots of small planes, said aviation economist Dorothy Robine.

"The airline gets the benefit. The FAA bears the cost," Robine said. "The current system is perverse."

Robine, other economists and the Bush administration have called for changing the system when Congress passes legislation this year funding the FAA. That may not happen, but the House has voted to seek voluntary limits on scheduled flights, and mandatory caps if that fails.

Former FAA Administrator Marion Blakey warns of worse gridlock if nothing's done.

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"We're moving from about 750 million to a billion by 2014," Blakey said. "That is a lot of passengers."

The Department of Transportation could announce plans to restrict traffic at JFK and Newark in the next few days.

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