Republic hits back at JetBlue and Southwest slot shift opposition

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Updated removing mention of Frontier service between Washington National and Kansas City in paragraph eight.

Republic Airlines argues that it should be allowed to shift slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport in order to maintain critical service to small cities, following a joint objection from JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines.

The Indianapolis-based regional carrier is seeking an “exceptional circumstance” exemption from the US Department of Transportation (DOT) to use three slot pairs for flights to Madison, Wisconsin, and Omaha, Nebraska, under the Delta Connection brand.

“No circumstance is more ‘exceptional’ than providing for the continuation of successful and well-utilised nonstop DCA [Washington National] service to Madison and Omaha,” it says in a regulatory filing on 22 January. It argues that the DOT has allowed the use of such an exemption for service to small communities in the past.

JetBlue and Southwest claim that allowing the exemption would increase the concentration of slots held or operated by incumbent carriers at Washington National, in a filing on 17 January. Delta Air Lines controls more than 100 slots at the airport, they say.

“The congressional intent of this unusual authority, as well as consistent DOT practice over two decades, clearly is to limit these exemptions to new entrants and limited incumbent carriers holding a small number of slots at DCA to facilitate their ability to compete effectively at the airport,” they say.

Republic’s subsidiary Chautauqua Airlines would like to begin the once daily flight to Madison and twice daily flights to Omaha on 1 February, after Frontier Airlines discontinues service with the slot pairs. Its Shuttle America subsidiary would take over the flights on 1 March.

These would be the only nonstop flights from the Washington DC and Baltimore area to Madison and Omaha, as American Airlines’ has announced plans to end service between National airport and Omaha sometime in 2014.

Republic currently uses the three pairs to operate for daily nonstops from Washington National to Madison and Omaha on behalf of Frontier, which it sold to private equity firm Indigo Partners in December 2013.

The regional carrier’s exemption request has the backing of local business and political leaders in Madison and Omaha, as well as the Wisconsin congressional delegation.

“[The Madison-DCA service] helps connect business and leisure travellers from the state capital, to the nation’s capital, state officials to their federal counterparts, and provides faculty, researchers and students at the University of Wisconsin convenient access to federal agencies in and around Washington DC,” write Wisconsin’s congressional delegation in a letter to DOT secretary Anthony Foxx and US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) administrator Michael Huerta dated 12 December 2013.