WASHINGTON - Slot auctions designed to reduce delays nationwide and increase competition are coming to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, the government said Friday.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) also said that the government and industry must improve procedures for complying with maintenance and safety rules to avoid massive flight cancellations, like those that left hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded last month when American Airlines and other carriers had to ground MD-80 jetliners to inspect or redo wiring. Those inspections were supposed to have been completed in March.

The White House, which demanded action after last summer's record delays, lauded the announcement. But the airline industry and some critics said the effort will do little to ease delays -- and the Air Transport Association threatened legal action.

The department last month announced similar slot auctions for New York's LaGuardia Airport that will require carriers to auction some of their existing slots over the next five years and possibly retire others. The three New York-area airports, all of which will soon have flights capped during peak hours, last year had the nation's lowest on-time arrival rates. Aviation officials say delays there cascade throughout the system.

Under the latest proposals from DOT Secretary Mary Peters, all airlines operating at Newark and JFK would be given as many as 20 daily slots for the 10-year life of the rule. A percentage above the base amount would be auctioned.

As many as 179 of the airport's 1,245 slots could be affected.

The plan also calls for auctioning 10 percent of slots at Newark above the baseline annually for the first five years of the rule, making 96 of 1,219 slots at the airport auctioned over the 10-year span.

The ATA, which represents the nation's largest airlines, and the International Air Transport Association said that the government lacks the legal authority to impose the auctions.

The department will accept comments about the new proposal for the next 60 days before a final rule is issued.