The effort to lower Buffalo's sky-high air fares enlisted a downstate supporter today when Rep. Charles E. Schumer announced he will introduce legislation to force the nation's major airports to reserve "slots" for flights to Buffalo and other upstate cities.
Schumer, a Brooklyn Democrat vying to be Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato's opponent in 1998, appeared at Greater Buffalo International Airport with Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, and Mayor Masiello to highlight his entry into the air fare fray.
Schumer said his bill would open more gate slots at major airports like LaGuardia and JFK in New York City as well as National in Washington and O'Hare in Chicago -- a move he says will automatically result in new competition and lower fares.
"If you do it, you get good old-fashioned American competition," Schumer said. "Our job is to get the FAA to open up slots. The results will be reasonable fares for travelers from all over."
Schumer and LaFalce said they are joining their efforts to force changes in the slot system, although both are pursuing different avenues. LaFalce said he wants to use existing laws to open major airport slots because of the law's provisions for "extenuating circumstances."
LaFalce also said he continues to attempt to bring Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater to Buffalo to discuss the problem first hand.
Schumer's legislation would force the slot openings in a type of limited regulation, resulting in discount airline access to big airports like LaGuardia. Either way, the congressmen said such efforts would result in improvement.
"The mere threat or possibility of legislation is helpful," LaFalce said. "It may cause US Airways to consider low-cost options."
Schumer said large airlines use their control of slots to squeeze out smaller carriers, claiming most airports (which do not have slots) foster true price competition by allowing the entry of discount airlines. But such discount carriers cannot survive in New York State, he explained, when most air destinations are to the major "slotted" airports.
"This morning I pulled out my New York City-to-Buffalo ticket and noted that it cost $438 and once again my blood boiled," Schumer said. "Every time a Buffalo resident goes to the airport, they get gouged by the major airlines."
Schumer found support from Masiello, who noted the difficulty in keeping or attracting business when it faces such high air fares.
"Obviously, airline fares are part of the bottom line of any business," the mayor said. "It's counterproductive and even punitive to our city's ability to keep and attract business."