ROUTES: Southwest targets slots at Washington National

Las Vegas
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Southwest Airlines calls slot usage at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport “inefficient”, as it seeks ways to expand at the Washington DC area’s city airport.

“Reagan is the airport with the least efficient use of slots,” says Bob Jordan, chief commercial officer of the Dallas-based low-fare carrier, on the sidelines of World Routes 2013 in Las Vegas today. He says this is due to the high – and growing – percentage of flights flown on small gauge aircraft at the airport.

US Airways, which is the largest carrier at National with 55% of the available slots, uses regional aircraft with as few as 37-seats for the majority of its flights from the airport.

Slots at National have to either be bought from another carrier, for example when Delta Air Lines agreed to swap slots at the airport for ones at New York LaGuardia with US Airways in 2011, or allocated by the US Department of Transportation through a competitive process.

“It’s hard to be the largest domestic carrier with no way to get additional slots,” says Jordan on Southwest’s plight at National.

A slot divestiture by American Airlines and US Airways in exchange for approval of their proposed merger presents an opportunity for Southwest.

The airline would “absolutely” be interested in bidding on such slots through a fair process, says Jordan. However, he adds that Southwest is neutral on the proposed merger, which is being challenged by the US Department of Justice in court.

“Southwest wants to compete,” he says. “The only thing standing in our way to competing more effectively at Reagan is access.”

The carrier and its subsidiary AirTran Airways have a large operation at nearby Baltimore/Washington International airport with more than 200 daily flights. However, the airport’s location 51.5km (32 miles) from central Washington DC make it less attractive than National to business travellers.