American and JetBlue argue against Virgin America having its data confidential

Washington DC
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American Airlines and JetBlue Airways are opposing Virgin America’s request to keep its traffic and financial data on the majority of its routes confidential.

The San Francisco-based startup requested US DOT keep performance information from public release in the following markets: San Francisco to Los Angeles, New York City, Washington, DC and Las Vegas; and flights from Los Angeles to New York City and Washington, DC.

Virgin America says it would like information kept secret until the airline becomes a Group III carrier, defined as having more than $1 billion in annual operating revenue.

American tells DOT that confidentiality would be “highly unfair, prejudicial to other reporting carriers and adverse to the public interest to withhold Virgin America's data when the data submitted by all other carriers is released immediately. Timely release of carrier data is the key to its usefulness”.

US DOT requires carriers to file performance information, including revenue passenger miles, available seat miles and passenger enplanements, in public “Form 41” filings.

However, Virgin says public release of detailed operational, traffic and financial data will cause the airline to suffer “substantial competitive harm”, and would enable competitors “to accurately calculate a variety of market-specific information, including cost per available seat mile, yield, revenue per available seat mile and profit margins”.

Houston-based ExpressJet last year made a similar request of DOT, asking for confidential treatment of its traffic data for branded operations for April, May, June and July, reasoning disclosure would damage its emerging operations.

As JetBlue notes in its filing, regulators denied ExpressJet’s request on more than one occasion, siding with carriers including Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, Northwest Airlines, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, which said the airline was requesting an unfair advantage.

Virgin carried 383,000 passengers through December 2007 after launching flights in August, says the US DOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Flight’s ACAS database shows the carrier currently flies a total of 16 Airbus narrowbodies – four A319s and 12 A320s.