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Delta, US Airways balk at runway slot compromise

By Harry R. Weber
Associated Press / February 10, 2010

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ATLANTA - The government says Delta Air Lines and US Airways can swap takeoff and landing slots at airports in New York and Washington, but there’s a catch: They must sell some of the slots to protect competition.

The two airlines said in a joint statement yesterday that if the order is implemented as proposed, they don’t expect the deal to go forward. “Both airlines will review the DOT’s proposed rulemaking to determine our next steps,’’ they said.

A slot is an interval of time during which an airline can take off or land its aircraft at an airport. A pair refers to cities airlines fly between. Slots, especially at peak times in busy corridors like the Northeast, are valuable to airlines.

US Airways agreed in August to transfer 125 operating slot pairs to Delta at LaGuardia Airport in New York. In exchange, Delta agreed to transfer 42 operating slot pairs to US Airways at Reagan National Airport in Washington.

The Transportation Department said yesterday it has tentatively allowed the transaction to proceed as long as the airlines sell some of their slot interests to carriers with no or limited service at the two airports.

The approval requires the airlines to sell 14 pairs of slot interests at National and 20 at LaGuardia.

The deal could still find some resistance. A final decision won’t be issued until after a 30-day public comment period.

Delta’s general counsel wrote in a Jan. 29 letter than the airline has been told the Justice Department’s antitrust division staff planned to recommend that the division challenge the proposed transaction.

Through the transactions, the airlines are seeking more bang for the buck in congested areas where slot access is limited and where they face increased competition from Southwest Airlines, which has a knack for bringing lower fares to new markets it serves.