Delta Air Lines' CEO on Thursday said a government proposal to reduce the flight limit at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport by 20 percent could halt the company's post-bankruptcy recovery.
"The restrictions would ... impede the execution of a crucial component of Delta's business plan as we have emerged from bankruptcy and they would threaten our continuing recovery," Delta CEO Richard Anderson said in a statement prepared for the House subcommittee on aviation.
The subcommittee called the hearing ahead of the busy Thanksgiving travel period, with lawmakers concerned about this year's record levels of air travel delays.
Also Thursday, President Bush is expected to announce steps intended to reduce air traffic congestion and long delays that have left passengers stranded.
Anderson said the Transportation Department proposal to reduce flights at JFK unfairly asks domestic carriers "voluntarily to accept a system of blatant discrimination" since foreign airlines would not be subject to the flight caps.
Also at Thursday's hearing, JetBlue Airways Corp. CEO David Barger said the proposed cap of 80 takeoffs or landings per hour should be raised. He urged the Federal Aviation Administration to base airline service levels at JFK on each carrier's year-over-year increase in operations, not by their presence at the airport during record delays last summer. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs JFK, also has rallied against the government's hourly flight target.
Carriers and the Port Authority prefer flight-path changes, and technological and infrastructure improvements they say could increase the airport's capacity.
Anderson and Barger also spoke about their Thanksgiving preparations in a year of record delays for the industry, which expects a 4 percent increase in holiday traffic.
Through September, more than 24 percent of flights arrived late, according to the Transportation Department, the industry's worst on-time performance since comparable data began being collected in 1995.
Lawmakers did not ask Anderson about Wednesday's reports of possible merger discussions with UAL Corp.'s United Airlines. Delta emerged from bankruptcy in April and last month reported a quarterly profit that beat Wall Street estimates.