Report: Southwest interested in DC landing rights

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Southwest Airlines is interested in acquiring the right to operate flights at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington that are being vacated by US Airways and American Airlines as part of their merger, according to a report.

Reuters is reporting that Southwest plans to bid for as many of the 52 pairs of departing and arriving flights that the Department of Justice is requiring US Air and American to give up.

The landing rights, or slots, at the D.C. airport and other densely-populated Northeast airports like New York's LaGuardia Airport are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

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Southwest has already acquired 22 of the 34 flights the Justice Department required US Air and American to give up at LaGuardia.

The company's executive vice president and chief commercial officer told the news agency that it was hoping for a repeat at the D.C. airport, which is popular with lawmakers because of its proximity to the Capitol.

"We are very interested in picking up as many DCA (National) slots as we can," Southwest Vice President Robert Jordan said.

The Justice Department said when it announced its settlement with US Air and American last month that it was hoping for an increase in low-cost airlines at National and other Northeast airports to counteract the impact on ticket prices of the latest airline consolidation.

Jordan told Reuters that the only way that could happen was if Southwest were given the majority of the D.C. flights US Air and American are vacating.

"We need a meaningful number of slots to be able to compete effectively at Reagan," he said. "We don't need 10; we need 50 or 60 or 70. We're going to be aggressive in terms of bidding."

The right to land flights at Reagan airport, which is currently a hub for US Airways, was seen as a linchpin in the deal between the airlines and the Justice Department.

The department had filed a lawsuit against the merger before the agreement arguing that the combination of US Air and American would violate federal antitrust laws and increase ticket prices for airlines  passengers.

The airlines countered that they needed to be allowed to merge to compete with others that have combined forces with the Justice Department's blessing in recent years, including Southwest and AirTran Airways.

In addition to the landing rights at National and LaGuardia airports, the Justice Department's settlement with US Air and American required them to agree to keep their hub airports at current flight levels for at least three years.

The airlines finalized their merger this week. They have said that passengers will start seeing visible signs of their combination, such as merged frequent-flier mileage programs, as early as January.

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