Air Canada among airlines seeking Washington Reagan slots

By Bill Poling
/uploadedImages/All_TW_News/Government_Affairs/2012/USmap_Rev.jpgAir Canada and six U.S. airlines have filed at the Transportation Department for new rights to operate long-haul or transcontinental routes from Washington Reagan National Airport, where service is normally limited to points within 1,250 miles. (Click the image, left, for a larger view of the map of the proposed routes.)

The latest FAA authorization act from Congress called for the creation of additional takeoff and landing slots at Reagan National to permit four daily roundtrips to points beyond the mileage perimeter, specifically for use by new-entrant or “limited incumbent” airlines that have fewer than 40 slots.

Unlike some other congressional directives regarding slots at Reagan National, the new law was not restricted to U.S. airlines but specifically included Canadian carriers.

Air Canada jumped at the chance, filing for the right to operate a daily roundtrip to Vancouver.

Air Canada is the only foreign airline operating at the airport, with routes to Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, but Air Canada said it has been limited in its ability to expand because of the mileage perimeter and the scarcity of slots.

Reagan National AirportAir Canada noted that Vancouver is the largest point in Canada that lacks nonstop service to the Washington area.

Consistent with the legal requirement that service be operated with narrowbody aircraft, the carrier proposed to use 120-passenger A319 aircraft.

The following were the six U.S. applicants.

• Alaska Airlines asked for half of the slots, proposing one daily roundtrip to Portland, Ore., and one to San Diego, both operated with 737-800 aircraft seating 157 passengers.

The San Diego flight would continue to Honolulu, giving Reagan National a one-stop service to Hawaii. The carrier noted that San Diego is the largest market beyond the airport’s perimeter that lacks nonstop service.

• Frontier proposed a daily nonstop to Colorado Springs, which it recently established as a new focus city, with service to six other points in the West. The Washington flight, operated with 168-passenger A320s would continue to San Diego, offering a one-stop service in that market.

• JetBlue proposed two routes: a daily roundtrip to Austin, Texas, and a daily roundtrip to San Juan, with a connection to St. Thomas.

The San Juan flight, which would give Reagan National it’s first service to the Caribbean, would be operated with A320s configured for 168 passengers; the Austin service would operate with 100-passenger Embraer 190 regional jets.

In support of Austin, JetBlue claimed that United operates a monopoly nonstop from its Washington Dulles hub.

• Southwest also filed for Austin, branding United’s existing service from Dulles as “overpriced” and saying it would dramatically reduce fares.

Southwest’s single daily flight would be operated with new 737-800 aircraft seating 175 passengers, when they become available, and would continue on a one-stop basis to San Diego.

• Sun Country proposed a daily service to Las Vegas using 737-700 aircraft seating 129. The leisure airline, which offers a mix of scheduled and charter service, said it has been successfully serving Las Vegas for nearly 30 years and has provided a successful service with its only other Washington slot, which is used on a route to Lansing, Mich.

• Virgin America asked for one route to its San Francisco base, but asked for half the slots so that it could operate two daily flights. The carrier would deploy A319 aircraft with 119 seats on the route, calling it a “right-sized” aircraft for the market.

Virgin America said California has been “shortchanged” in other DOT actions to allow limited service beyond the Washington perimeter. (The six cities now served with beyond-perimeter slots are Denver, Phoenix, Seattle, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.)

The DOT is expected to choose among the competing applicant after the parties are given a change to file rebuttals to each others’ proposals.

In a separate action affecting large incumbent airlines at the airport, the DOT recently authorized American, Delta, United and US Airways to convert any one of their existing slots to a long-haul slot for beyond-perimeter service.

As reported, United chose to begin a daily nonstop to San Francisco on May 14; Delta will add a daily flight to Salt Lake City on June 7; and American will launch a Los Angeles nonstop on June 14.

US Airways is also eligible to add a long-haul flight, but has not yet named a destination.
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