WASHINGTON (AP) _ The glut of planes taking off and landing at one of the nation's busiest and snowiest airports, New York's La Guardia International, is about to get more hectic.

The government used a lottery Monday to hand out 159 new takeoff and landing slots at La Guardia. Airlines getting the most new slots were Delta Connection, American Eagle and Continental Express, with 20 each.

The new traffic means a 15 percent increase in the average number of hourly flights at La Guardia, from 65 to 75.

Airport officials have been trying to figure out how to contain the congestion. Delays at La Guardia, with its ``continuing growth in flights and resulting congestion,'' accounted for 23 percent of the national total, the Federal Aviation Administration reported in October.

La Guardia has been operating 1,064 flights daily under the high-density federal rule limiting flights at certain busy airports.

Last spring, a law was enacted to permit an increase in traffic at the New York airport, Chicago's O'Hare and Washington's Reagan National to accommodate new carriers and increase flights to smaller markets. Since then more than 200 new daily flights have been added at La Guardia, and requests were made that would increase the daily total by about 600, the FAA said.

Already worried about congestion-caused delays, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey imposed a moratorium on new flights in September.

That month, delays were up 41 percent from a year ago.

The FAA worked with the Port Authority to develop the lottery to allocate the new slots, starting Jan. 1 and effective until Sept. 15.

In the meantime, the FAA said it will develop a more comprehensive system of easing congestion.

The airlines drew lots for first choice of times for these slots. Some were reserved for new entrant airlines and those promising to serve smaller communities. Actual cities for the newly awarded flights have not been determined, FAA officials said.

One new airline, Legend, has shut down and filed for bankruptcy protection. It was included in the lottery, however, and was awarded seven slots. If Legend is unable to return to service those slots will be redistributed to other carriers, the FAA said.

Other participating airlines and the number of slots they received were Delta Connection, 20; Midwest Express, 8; American Eagle, 20; Midway, 15; American Trans Air, 6; Continental Express, 20; Vanguard, 2; Spirit, 12; AirTran, 11; Southeast Air, 4; Shuttle America, 14; and US Airways Express, 20.

A contingency round also was held to distribute slots if Legend is unable to use those awarded to it. Airlines receiving contingency slots were Delta Connection, 2; American Eagle, 2; Continental Express, 2; and US Airways Express, 1.


On the Net:

Federal Aviation Administration: http://www.faa.gov

La Guardia Airport: http://www.panynj.gov/aviation/lgaframe.HTM