Airline ‘swaps’ rejected by FAA

MANATEE — Local airport officials say they are “disappointed” the federal government rejected two airlines’ proposed swap of landing and takeoff rights, but likely won’t become involved in a potential court case over the decision.

The U.S. Transportation Department and Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday they would not approve the proposed trade between Delta Air Lines and US Airways, which involves “slot pairs” at airports in Washington and New York. The agencies said the airlines would have to sell some slot pairs to other airlines for the deal to be approved.

Both airlines said they plan to appeal the decision in federal court.

Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport had lobbied for the trade, believing it could result in SRQ getting more flights to Washington’s Reagan National Airport and new service to LaGuardia airport in New York.

“Obviously we’re disappointed the FAA didn’t see it our way,” Fredrick “Rick” Piccolo, SRQ’s president and chief executive, said Wednesday.

SRQ will stay out of the court case because of the expense involved, so “we’ll have to wait and see what the appeal brings,” he said.

The proposal originally had US Airways trading 125 pairs of daily slots at LaGuardia to Delta, for 42 slot pairs at Reagan. The swap would allow the two airlines to get bigger shares of two key markets — Washington for US Airways, and New York for Delta.

Critics, including Southwest Airlines, said it would make them too dominant.

Federal regulators said they would approve a deal only if the carriers sold 34 slot pairs in a blind auction to airlines that have little or no service at those airports.

They also rejected a compromise that was proposed by the airlines in which they would transfer some slots to carriers they chose, including AirTran Airways, Spirit Airlines, Canadian carrier WestJet, and JetBlue Airways.

The DOT said the counteroffer “would be insufficient to preserve competition at the two airports.”

Delta and US Airways jointly said the “decision is inexplicable and has clearly exceeded their statutory authority.”