Southwest and Virgin America take New York LaGuardia slot pairs

Washington DC
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The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved a deal for American Airlines to transfer 17 slot pairs at New York LaGuardia airport to Southwest Airlines and Virgin America.

Southwest would keep five pairs that it already leases from American and receive six additional pairs for new service at New York’s close-in airport, while Virgin America would receive six pairs in order to begin service to LaGuardia.

The slot divestiture is part of a deal that American reached with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) on 12 November in exchange for antitrust approval of its merger with US Airways.

The carriers are also required to divest 52 slot pairs at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport, and two gates and related facilities at Boston Logan, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas Love Field, Los Angeles International and Miami International airports, under the terms of the settlement.

The FAA says that the transfers are “in the public interest and would not adversely affect safety”, in a decision issued on 2 December and made available today. The filing also says that the Justice department has approved “the acquirers”.

Southwest and Virgin America had previously expressed interest in the LaGuardia slots, as well as other assets that American and US Airways must divest.

Burlingame, California-based Virgin America says that it is interested in “any airport assets that could be made available through the settlement process”.

The acquisition of LaGuardia slots has raised questions about where the airline might fly. Its main bases are currently Los Angeles International and San Francisco International airports, both of which are beyond LaGuardia’s 2,414km (1,500 mile) perimeter.

The perimeter applies to every day of the week except Saturdays.

One possible suggestion by industry followers is that Virgin America could use the slots to begin flights between New York LaGuardia and Dallas Love Field in conjunction with acquiring gates at Dallas’ close-in airport that American is also divesting under the settlement.

The airline declines to comment on the suggestion but confirms that it is looking at the Love Field gates.

Airlines will be able to fly from Love Field to anywhere in the country once the Wright Amendment, which limited flights to only states bordering Texas and Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi and Missouri, is lifted in October 2014.

"American has reached agreements with other airlines regarding 34 slots at LaGuardia airport, and the divestitures have been approved by the Department of Justice," says the Fort Worth, Texas-based carrier. "American and the other carriers have agreed to transition the operation of the slots over time in order to minimise customer disruption."

Southwest was not immediately available for comment.