A three judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the slot auction may not be held until a federal court rules on objections from New York airport officials and airlines.
Opponents of the plan "have satisfied the stringent standards required for a stay pending court review," said Judges Karen LeCraft Henderson, Janice Rogers Brown and Brett M. Kavanaugh.
That review likely won't come before President George W. Bush and his Cabinet's terms have ended. Obama has not yet picked a transportation secretary, who will have to decide whether to continue the attempt to have auctions.
"This decision should buy enough time for the next administration and Congress to put slot auctions on the shelf for good and then craft a new, workable plan to reduce flight delays and give New York's airspace and airports the upgrade they need and deserve," New York Sen. Charles Schumer said.
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters called for the auction as a way to reduce air traffic at the John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark, N.J., airports. The government says two out of three flights delayed 15 minutes or more were due to cascading backups beginning at one of the New York metropolitan area's three airports.
Trying to fix the problem, the government announced plans to auction off some takeoff and landing slots to control the crushing demand for time and space. By auctioning slots, the government reasons, market forces will help restrain such demand and make the system operate more efficiently.
"Today's court decision is bad news for travelers seeking a better flying experience in and out of the New York region," Transportation Department spokeswoman Sarah Echols said. "We are committed to our goal of protecting travelers, giving passengers more options and improving the air travel experience, and will continue to assess our options to provide relief for flyers."
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey applauded the decision to halt the auction plan, saying it "would invariably drive up ticket prices for passengers for the same service without alleviating delays."
"We look forward to working with the next administration to develop real, long-term solutions to improve air travel," the Port Authority said in a statement.
"This is a clear win for passengers, as the department was stopped from proceeding with an ideological experiment that would have resulted in higher fares, less service and a confiscation of airline property," said James C. May, president of the Air Transport Association, a trade group for carriers.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)