Delta Air Lines and US Airways believe the US FAA and Department of Transportation (DOT) exceeded their legal authority in rejecting a proposed slot swap between the two carriers at New York LaGuardia and Washington National airports.

In August 2009 the two carriers announced a strategic swap that entailed US Airways agreeing to transfer 125 pairs of its Express slots at New York's LaGuardia airport to Delta, which would result in Delta transitioning the airport into a hub. In turn, Delta agreed to transfer 42 pairs of its slots at Washington National airport to US Airways.

A slot pair equals one roundtrip flight.

US regulators in February of this year issued a tentative approval that required the carriers to divest 14 slot pairs at Washington National and 20 at LaGuardia to incumbent or new entrant carriers to strengthen competition at the airports to offset potential harm caused by the proposed transaction.

In a modified proposal Delta and US Airways agreed to transfer 12% of takeoff and landing slots in the proposed swap to AirTran, JetBlue, Spirit and WestJet. Delta agreed to transfer five slot pairs each to AirTran, Spirit and WestJet at LaGuardia while US Airways committed to transferring 4.5 pairs of Washington National slots to JetBlue.

On 4 May the government essentially upheld its decision handed down in February through a requirement to divest a total of 34 slots through a blind sale. The slot pairs must be sold in bundles large enough to ensure the buyer supplies meaningful new competition, says the DOT.

"It is remarkable to us that a government agency which professes to be pro-competition does now allow carriers to engage in self-help activities that are clearly legal and have interests of consumers and communities in mind," says US Airways president Scott Kirby.

As a result of the final ruling, US Airways and Delta say they are appealing the government's decision in the US Court of Appeals.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news