JetBlue, Southwest get D.C. airport rights

DALLAS — Southwest and JetBlue are the beneficiaries of a deal requiring American Airlines to give up some of its coveted operating rights at Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

Southwest Airlines Co. said Thursday that it won the right to buy enough takeoff and landing slots for 27 daily departures, adding to 17 daily flights that it already operates from the airport near downtown Washington.

JetBlue Airways Corp. spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said American Airlines told JetBlue that it will get enough slots for 12 daily round trips. She said JetBlue will also get to buy slots for another eight daily round trips that it currently leases from American. JetBlue began operating at Reagan in 2010 and runs 18 daily departures.

Both JetBlue and Southwest said that their winning bids need final approval from the U.S. Justice Department. Financial terms were not disclosed. The airlines said they would announce later which routes they’ll serve with the new rights.

A spokesman for American declined to comment, saying only that American was talking to several carriers about the Reagan slots.

Enough slots for five daily round trips remain to be awarded. A spokeswoman for Virgin America, which won some American Airlines slots at New York’s LaGuardia Airport last month, said the airline was interested in Reagan too.

JetBlue shares jumped 49 cents, or 5.8 percent, to close at $8.99; they were also helped when Deutsche Bank upgraded them to “buy” from “hold,” citing an improving outlook for earnings. Southwest shares gained 61 cents, or 3 percent, to close at $21.22.

The federal government limits takeoff and landing slots at Reagan and New York-area airports because they are overcrowded.

American agreed in November to sell enough slots for 52 round trips at Reagan and additional slots at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The Justice Department said that would increase competition, and in exchange, the government agreed to drop an antitrust lawsuit aimed at blocking American’s merger with US Airways. The merger closed in December.

Even with the divestitures, the new American Airlines Group Inc. will remain the biggest operator at Reagan.

In December, Southwest was awarded rights to 11 daily takeoffs and landings at LaGuardia and Virgin America got six. JetBlue was shut out.

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