Five US low-fare airlines have been given permission to begin serving slot-controlled Chicago O'Hare International Airport and New York's La Guardia Airport, marking a first victory for the sector in its battle against the major network carriers.

The permissions, granted by the US Department of Transportation (DoT), are designed to encourage new non-stop and low-fare services in the affected markets. The carriers include Frontier, Reno Air and Trans States, as well as AirTran Airways and ValuJet, which will soon merge. Frontier will connect Denver International and La Guardia, while Reno will begin flying between Reno and Chicago. Trans States will serve O'Hare from Virginia and North Carolina.

Air Tran will compete with Delta in the La Guardia-Atlanta Hartsfield market. ValuJet had hoped to begin serving New York two years ago, but Delta grabbed slots which Trans World Airlines had offered to ValuJet. The move prompted a lawsuit which Air Trans plans to pursue.

Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain, an Arizona Republican, praises the DoT's action, but says that it is not sufficient. He has introduced legislation which would open up slot-restricted Washington National Airport, and transfer landing/take-off rights from incumbents to new-entrant airlines at high-density US airports. Proponents argue that this would increase competition.

US Airways has threatened the loss of some services to smaller communities should the legislation be enacted - the very type of service which the proposed bill seeks to increase. US Airways suggests alternatives such as using general-aviation slots, instead of confiscating slots from existing carriers.

Source: Flight International