Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines are moving quickly to claim additional slots promised for regional services at New York's La Guardia Airport as the result of newly approved Congressional legislation.

Contained in the US Federal Aviation Administration reauthorisation Bill is a provision to grant exemptions "to any carrier to provide non-stop air transportation, using an aircraft with a certified maximum seating capacity of less than 71 between La Guardia and a small hub or non-hub airport". The Bill has still to be approved by US President Bill Clinton.

In response, Continental Express has filed an application with the US Department of Transportation for 146 slot exemptions at La Guardia to open routes to 22 new domestic destinations from September. Delta Connection has similarly given notice that it plans to submit an application to launch non-stop services to 21 cities, starting in July.

The legislation applies to airports serving fewer than 3 million passengers a year. Continental and Delta's applications closely mirror each other's. Both include services from La Guardia to Birmingham, Alabama; Buffalo, New York; Hartford, Connecticut; Knoxsville, Tennessee; Norfolk, Virginia; and Portland, Maine.

Continental wants to base 32 of its new 37-seat Embraer RJ-135s at La Guardia, with the option of switching to the 50-seat ERJ-145. The airline operates 15 round trips to its Houston and Cleveland hubs, 4% of total departures. The extra slots, if approved, would boost Continental's share to 17% and pose a direct challenge to the La Guardia operation of Business Express (BEX), incumbent American Eagle's recently acquired subsidiary.

American is introducing new jets to La Guardia, with the recent launch of an ERJ-145 service to Cleveland and a planned ERJ-135 summer service to Traverse City, Michigan.

Delta has not named its La Guardia-based Connection carriers, but it is understood that start-up Atlantic Coast Jet will figure prominently. The Atlantic Coast Airline's sister carrier is to begin flying in May, and will have 14 Fairchild 328JETs and four Bombardier Canadair Regional Jet-200s on line by December. AC Jet is viewed as a replacement for Delta partner BEX after the American takeover last year.

Source: Flight International