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Spirit Wins Ex-Southwest Slots At Newark Airport

SimpleFlying logo SimpleFlying 7/6/2022 Andrew Curran
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Spirit Airlines has won 16 peak-hour runway timings (or slots) at New York's Newark Airport. Spirit Airlines faced down competition from JetBlue for all 16 slots and Alaska Airlines for four of the slots. But the US Department of Transportation (DOT) found that Spirit Airlines was best able to provide competition with all 16 timings, consistent with the Department of Justice's original competition remedy. The 16 slots will allow Spirit Airlines to offer eight services a day in and out of Newark.

A sweet Newark outcome for Spirit Airlines

The outcome is all the more sweeter for Spirit Airlines, with the Florida-based airline engaged in a high-stakes legal battle to force the Department of Transportation to release the slots after the government department initially planned to warehouse them. Spirit Airlines called that move arbitrary and capricious. Last year, a US court agreed. As a result, the DOT decided to reallocate the EWR slots to a carrier who could bring some competition into the airport.

Around 30 airlines fly into Newark Airport, but one, United Airlines, enjoys sole operator status on 81 of the 148 city pairs on offer out of the airport. United Airlines opposed the DOT releasing the 16 slots, saying it would worsen delays and congestion at Newark.

The extra slot allocations will allow Spirit to offer eight round-trip flights a day out of Newark Airport. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

Spirit's arrival signals more competition at Newark Airport

The DOT says Tuesday's decision secures low-cost service options for Newark customers and improves competition in the Newark market, which was affected when Southwest Airlines discontinued service there in 2019 after deciding to base its New York operations at LaGuardia Airport (LGA). The department adds that the decision also provides some certainty for airlines that have been operating at Newark using temporary, ad hoc timings made available while other carriers reduced service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Given the Department's concern over the recent airline cancellations, delays, challenges with customer service, and other operational disruptions that have hurt travelers, the Department is requiring Spirit, as a condition of accepting the timings, to report additional data on disruptions facing their airline customers and its ability to provide them with accommodations," reads a statement issued by the DOT. "These reporting requirements will enable the Department to monitor Spirit's ability to deliver on its customer commitment and permit the Department to better quantify the financial impact of operational disruptions on travelers."

The DOT believes its decision to allocate the slots to Spirit Airlines will bring more competition to Newark. Photo: Vincenzo Pace/Simple Flying

Spirit had the edge in the fight for the Newark slots

The DOT, via the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), manages the amount of airline traffic at crowded EWR. Alaska's bid for just four slots, or daily two flights in and out of Newark, ruled that airline out of contention because the DOT preferred to hand out the 16 slots in one package.

Several factors swung the decision in Spirit's favor. Firstly, the airline doesn't have a big presence in the New York area. Secondly, its operating costs are significantly lower than JetBlue, which the DOT not unreasonably believes will translate into a more lower fares in and out of EWR. Also importantly, Spirit Airlines has the resources and infrastructure in place to provide the flights.

Spirit's besting of JetBlue at Newark comes as those airlines battle for control of Frontier Airlines. Many observers are already saying the Newark outcome is a precursor for the Frontier outcome, with many also citing the same reasons why - including more competition and lower fares.

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