JetBlue and Spirit Airlines have come out making a case for why they should receive the slots coming back to Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). Both carriers are vying to receive the entire block of 16 “slots” coming back into the schedule, and both have arguments in favor and against each airline. However, each airline is positioning itself slightly differently in a bid to get the flight authorizations.
Newark is open for competition
EWR is not traditionally slot-controlled like New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) is. Instead, it is designated a Level 2 airport, like Chicago O’Hare, where flight operations are capped for a certain hour or half-hour interval. Airlines and the airport have to work out a schedule that fits within those parameters. Suppose delays stack up or airlines and the airport come to an impasse. In that case, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can bring the airport back to traditional slot controls.
Earlier this year, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against The DOT and the FAA in a case Spirit Airlines brought forward over Newark. Spirit took issue with the FAA choosing to retire all 16 of Southwest’s peak-hour operations instead of re-allocating them to another airline after Southwest bowed out of Newark. Spirit had almost immediately sought those operations.
JetBlue sent a letter to the FAA outlining its case for receiving slots. JetBlue’s primary pitch is for the FAA to look at what the airline has already done at Newark. Since slot controls were relaxed in 2016, JetBlue has grown at Newark.
For example, in 2016, Newark saw new JetBlue flights to Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, Palm Beach, and Fort Myers. However, in 2019, JetBlue states that the FAA stopped engaging with the airline on seasonal monitoring and schedule facilitation. This was problematic for the airline as it has not received approvals for any new operations at Newark and lacks regulatory certainty for its operations, even as the airline has grown during the crisis.
Since the start of the crisis, JetBlue has added service to 29 destinations from Newark. Pre-crisis, the airline only operated roughly 25 daily departures. It has cast itself as offering much-needed competition at the airport, with 15 of the 29 new routes being to markets where United held a monopoly out of Newark.
JetBlue believes it is in a prime position to receive the allocations to shore up its flying. However, it also noted that many foreign airlines are not back at Newark, and United has still offered reduced schedules from EWR on a variety of routes. JetBlue offers that this makes congestion less of an issue for now and wants to see a further liberalization at Newark to allow airlines to grow to their desired schedules, subject to gate and terminal availability. It is also asking all current and new schedules at Newark be approved.
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Spirit has applied for the 16 additional operating authorizations during the pea hours. It has positioned itself as the “only low-cost carrier able to effectively compete against United’s near-monopoly at EWR.” Spirit’s model is centered around low-cost unbundled fares, and it has not shied away from taking on the big legacy carriers in the past.
Spirit is known for offering some of the lowest fares in the industry while still being profitable, thanks to a highly competitive cost structure. In this regard, Spirit believes it can help bring down fares at Newark in a way other airlines would not be able to do so and is best positioned to offer more competition that the US government has been promoting for Newark.
Unlike other low-cost carriers, Spirit also generally operates more stable year-round schedules with more regular services. Other airlines operating as low-cost carriers tend to fly only a few days a week on a given route with a highly seasonal bent. Spirit believes it can be incredibly effective in promoting competition because it is already set up to operate a stable, year-round scheduled service with daily or more flight operations, as it does at other major airports like Fort Lauderdale.
Who do you think should receive the flight authorizations that the FAA formerly vacated for peak-hour flying? Let us know in the comments!