US airlines fighting a redistribution plan for airport landing slots have scored a legal victory against the FAA.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) ruled today holds that the Department of Transportation, FAA's parent, lacks legal authority to conduct slot auctions.

The auction of unused slots at Newark Liberty had been set for early September but was postponed to allow for protests.

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, rejected the FAA's claim that it may "assign the use of airspace using its general property management authority". Instead, the GAO found that slots are not property, and that the FAA could violate several statutory prohibitions if it proceeded.

Air Transport Association president and CEO Jim May said that the trade group and the airlines "applaud the clear and decisive opinion rendered by the GAO, which affirms what we have said all along - that the DOT slot auction is unlawful".

The DOT was undaunted by the GAO's decision. "Given the very limited amount of time Congress gave GAO to do their analysis as well as GAO's relative unfamiliarity with the complexities of aviation law, today's opinion was not unforeseen," DOT said.

"However, should Congress give the agency an opportunity to conduct a more thorough review, we are confident that GAO will better understand both the validity and the effectiveness of our approach," DOT added.

Given the limited time left on the congressional calendar this year, such an opportunity is unlikely.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news