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Alaska adds new Love Field flights, assumes some Virgin routes

Alaska Air Group has announced a major shakeup of its operations at Dallas Love Field, unveiling new routes and a plan to replace much of subsidiary Virgin America's flying with regional aircraft operated by SkyWest Airlines.

Alaska will add flights in the coming months from Love Field to Portland, San Diego, San Jose and Seattle, the Seattle-based company says in a media release.

It will also cut capacity on existing Love Field routes that airline analysts have long highlighted as low yielding and highly competitive.

The expansion starts 27 August, when Alaska will begin twice-daily flights between Love Field and Seattle, it says.

Virgin America will operate one of those flights using Airbus A320s and SkyWest will operate the other using Embraer 175 regional jets, according to Alaska.

Also on 27 August SkyWest will begin once-daily E175 flights between Love Field and Portland.

On 16 February 2018 SkyWest will launch once-daily flights on both the Love Field-San Diego and Love Field-San Jose routes, Alaska says.

The new Love Field flights mark an escalation in a competitive battle with Love Field's top carrier, Southwest Airlines.

Southwest already operates up to eight times daily between Love Field and San Diego, and once daily from Love Field to Portland, San Jose, Seattle, FlightGlobal schedules data shows.

But with the additional flights, Alaska reaffirms its position at Love Field, an airport that held special significance in the decision by the US Department of Justice to approve Alaska's acquisition of Virgin in December 2016.

Out of competitive concern, DOJ approved the deal on condition that Alaska not divest gates at Love Field – gates that Alaska acquired from American, which divested them on merging with US Airways in 2013.

Virgin currently flies from Love Field to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York LaGuardia, San Francisco and Washington National airport, FlightMaps Analytics shows.

Alaska Airlines does not currently fly to Love Field, though it does serve Dallas-Fort Worth International airport from both Seattle and Portland, according to FlightMaps Analytics.

OTHER CHANGES

As part of a "streamlining" of Alaska's Love Field operation, Virgin will stop flying between Love Field and Las Vegas on 26 August, Alaska says.

Virgin America will continue flying from Love Field to Los Angeles and San Francisco, and no Virgin employees will lose jobs as a result of the moves, Alaska says.

SkyWest will also assume other Virgin routes from Love Field.

The St George, Utah-based regional airline will take over Virgin's thrice daily Love Field-LaGuardia flights on 27 August, and SkyWest will begin a fourth daily flight on that route beginning 28 October, Alaska says.

Likewise, on 18 February 2017 SkyWest will operate two of Virgin's three Love Field-Washington National flights, with SkyWest assuming the third daily flight on 11 March 2018, according to Alaska.

"Optimising the fleet and matching the right plane to the right market to is one of the key benefits of our merger with Virgin America," Alaska vice-president of capacity planning John Kirby says in a media release. "Prior to merger, Virgin America lacked a regional aircraft to take advantage of mid-sized routes. The fuel-efficient E175 jet… is perfectly suited for Love Field."

The changes reduce Alaska's exposure in ultra-competitive markets analysts have flagged as underperforming.

In February analysis firm Wolfe Research noted Alaska had already responded to market conditions by trimming capacity between Love Field and both LaGuardia and Las Vegas.

The Virgin cuts at Love Field will free the A320s to operate previously-announced new routes, Alaska says.

Those routes include Los Angeles-Philadelphia, and San Francisco to Philadelphia, New Orleans, Nashville, Indianapolis, Raleigh-Durham and Kona, according to the carrier.

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