One airline could take up to three of the four available slot bundles at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport, guaranteeing that at least two carriers will expand their operations at the facility as part of the American Airlines-US Airways merger.
The 44 slot pairs are available in four bundles – 14 pairs each for bundles A and B, 12 pairs in bundle C and four pairs in bundle D – to low-cost carriers, according to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA).
One airline can win up to two of bundles A, B and C, as well as D – for a possible total of three – but not all three of the large bundles, a source close to the process tells Flightglobal.
By limiting the number of bundles that a carrier can win, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is guaranteeing that at least two carriers will expand service at Washington National and furthering the antitrust regulator’s goal to increase competition at the airport.
The restrictions are comparable to those put in place by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) in the auction of two bundles of slots at New York LaGuardia airport in 2011. These were won by JetBlue Airways and WestJet.
Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and Virgin America are all expected to bid on the slot bundles. Air Canada and WestJet, which were expected to show interest, have said they cannot bid due to the auction being limited to US carriers.
The DOJ is running the auction of the slot pairs at Washington National that American and US Airways are divesting as part of a settlement with the regulator in exchange for approval of their merger.
In addition, JetBlue will keep eight slot pairs at National airport that it already leases from American under the terms of the agreement.
American and US Airways merged on 9 December and will begin codesharing on 23 January.
Margaret McKeough, chief operating officer of MWAA, outlined concerns about overcrowding at Washington National as a result of the slot divestments, during a presentation to the airport operator’s board earlier in January.
Concerns include increased congestion at security checkpoints, especially in the centre pier where American will divest five gates. The winners of the auction are expected to increase the number of origin and destination passengers at the airport, thus increasing pressure on the checkpoints.
The checkpoint in the centre pier has five screening lanes in its current configuration. MWAA has no immediate plans to expand the facility, according to recent presentations to its board.
One airline will likely take all five gates in the centre pier, while the other winner – or winners – will operate from gates in terminal A, according to McKeough's presentation. The security checkpoint in terminal A is in the process of being expanded, with construction due to be complete in February.
Frontier, JetBlue and Southwest currently operate from terminal A, Alaska the south pier and Virgin America the centre pier at Washington National.
The DOJ was not immediately available for comment.