JetBlue calls for US-American to give up slots at Washington National

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JetBlue Airways says US regulators should only approve the proposed merger of US Airways and American Airlines if the combined carrier divests takeoff and landing slots at Washington National Airport, the closest commercial airport to the nation's capital.

In a letter sent late last week to New York State Senator Charles Schumer, Long Island City, New York-based JetBlue said slot-controlled National airport is already heavily dominated by US Airways, and the merger would allow the combined carrier to further monopolise routes.

The result could be higher airfares to many cities, including those in New York like Syracuse, Buffalo, Albany, Rochester and White Plains, said JetBlue's letter, signed by senior vice president of government affairs and associate general counsel Robert Land.

"JetBlue urges you to ensure that our government's antitrust regulators and aviation officials condition this merger on a divestiture of slots at DCA so that opportunities for enhanced competition can flourish," said the letter.

In response, US Airways tells Flightglobal that National airport is a major hub for the airline, and that US Airways needs slots to ensure it can continue service to smaller communities.

US Airways CEO Doug Parker also told Schumer during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week that the merger would not put New York jobs, routes or affordable airfares at risk.

But JetBlue's letter said the merged carrier, if not required to divest slots, would control 67% of the takeoff and landing rights at the airport. The merged airline would have a monopoly on many routes and might cut service and raise fares, the letter said.

JetBlue said the merger would continue a trend towards monopolisation of National airport by US Airways that accelerated after a 2011 slot trade between US Airways and Delta Air Lines.

As part of that swap, US Airways acquired 42 slot pairs at National airport from Delta in exchange for giving Delta 132 slot pairs at LaGuardia Airport in New York.

US Airways emerged from that deal with 55% of National airport's available slots.

JetBlue also benefited, acquiring eight slots that US Airways was required to divest by as part of the deal. JetBlue now has 36 slots at National Airport, 4% of the total.

JetBlue said the swap gave US Airways a monopoly on many markets, allowing it to cut capacity by flying more regional aircraft.

"This under utilisation of slots, a scarce public resource, has led to reduced capacity and higher prices for the travelling public at [National Airport], as evidenced in the markets from National to upstate New York," the letter said.

JetBlue also said the "massive slot portfolio" at National airport of a combined US Airways-American Airlines would hinder competition by allowing the airline to increase capacity in any market if threatened by a new entrant.

JetBlue did not say whether it would add service to smaller cities like those in New York if it acquires additional slots.

"We will not speculate with the slot utilisation and will, if granted the slots, fly where it makes the most sense," the airline tells Flightglobal. "JetBlue has a well-earned reputation for bringing low fares to the market when given the opportunity to serve the community."

JetBlue flies from National airport to Boston in Massachusetts, San Juan in Puerto Rico and Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando in Florida.

US Airways also has direct flights to all those cities except San Juan. The carrier has 220 daily departures out of National airport.