US Airways, Delta, swapping airport slots

ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines Inc. and US Airways Group Inc.

US Airways, Delta, swapping airport slots

ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines Inc. and US Airways Group Inc. are swapping takeoff and landing slots at airports in New York and Washington, amid similar moves by AirTran Airways and Continental Airlines.

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A Delta executive said in a memo to employees Wednesday that Delta will exchange some of its flying rights at Washington’s Reagan National Airport for US Airways’ rights at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

The transition will add 11 gates to Delta’s LaGuardia operations. The world’s biggest airline operator said the deal, which is subject to government approvals, will allow it to create a domestic hub at LaGuardia, even as Atlanta-based Delta maintains a strong presence at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

AirTran, meanwhile, plans to stop flying to and from Newark, N.J., effective Oct. 25 and will give its takeoff and landing slots there to Continental Airlines in exchange for Continental slots at LaGuardia and National airports, where AirTran faces increased competition from Southwest Airlines. That deal was disclosed Tuesday.

According to Delta, its deal calls for US Airways to transfer 125 operating slot pairs to Delta at LaGuardia and for Delta to transfer 42 operating slot pairs to US Airways at Reagan National. The airlines also will swap gates at LaGuardia between the Marine Air Terminal and US Airways’ Terminal C to consolidate all Delta operations, including the Delta Shuttle, into an expanded main terminal facility.

A slot is an interval of time during which an airline can takeoff or land its aircraft at an airport. A pair refers to cities airlines fly between. Slots, especially at peak times of day, are valuable to airlines.

Delta executives said the changes are part of the airline’s effort to adapt its business to the weak economic environment facing it and other carriers.

Delta expects to more than double the number of nonstop destinations it serves from LaGuardia.

A US Airways executive said in a memo to the Tempe, Ariz.-based airline’s employees that the deal will allow US Airways to expand its service at the Washington airport, and also obtain from Delta access to slots at airports in Tokyo and Sao Paulo, Brazil. The carrier plans to reduce its Express flights at LaGuardia, while mainline and Shuttle flight levels will not be affected.

US Airways said it will be able to connect the nation’s capital to more small, medium, and large communities across the country.

The airline’s regional carrier Piedmont will be hit hard by US Airways’ plans to discontinue service to 26 destinations served by US Airways Express. That will result in the elimination of roughly 300 Piedmont positions at LaGuardia when the reduced flight schedule is implemented in early 2010, the airline said.

As for AirTran, the unit of Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran Holdings Inc., will give its 10 slots, its single gate and a jetway at Newark-Liberty International Airport to Continental. In exchange, Houston-based Continental Airlines Inc. will give AirTran four slots at LaGuardia and six slots at Reagan National in Washington.

Southwest began flying to LaGuardia in June and will gain entry to National Airport in Washington if its $170 million bid to buy the parent of Frontier Airlines succeeds. A bankruptcy court auction to sell Frontier is set for Thursday.