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When airport infrastructure is generally unable to meet carrier demand, the FAA may impose mandatory slot coordination or engage in schedule facilitation with carriers in order to ensure the efficient use of the airspace consistent with the FAA's authority in 49 U.S.C. § 40103(b). A slot is an FAA authorization to conduct an operation (either one take-off or one landing) at a constrained airport during a specific time period. A slot is allocated in accordance with FAA rules or orders in effect for the specific airport.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) manages the Worldwide Slot Guidelines (WSG) to provide the global air transport community with uniform standards for the management of airport slots at coordinated airports and planned operations at facilitated airports. The FAA generally follows the standards and process established in the WSG for slot administration to the extent there is no conflict with U.S. law, rules, or other administrative procedures.
Under the WSG, airports are classified into one of three categories based on the degree of congestion and potential for delays:
- Level 1 is assigned where the capacity of airport infrastructure is generally adequate to meet demand and therefore there is no extensive pattern of delays;
- Level 2 is assigned where there is potential for congestion during some periods of the day, which can be managed through mutual cooperation of the carriers with the schedule facilitator to ensure scheduling within the airport's capacity; and
- Level 3 is assigned where infrastructure is inadequate to meet demand and there is significant potential for delays requiring mandatory slot controls.
As the agency charged with ensuring the safety and efficiency of the National Airspace System (NAS), the FAA administers the coordination of slots and facilitation of schedules that align with the policy goals established relative to performance goals and runway capacity at airports within the slots program.
However, carriers must also separately work with local airport authorities to obtain access to passenger terminals and gates.
Although most airports in the U.S. are categorized as Level 1 airports under the IATA WSG, the FAA has imposed Level 3 slot controls by rule at some of the most congested airports in the country.