The Fight For Newark Slots Continues To Intensify

With 16 peak afternoon and evening period slots up for grabs in Newark, the fight is only intensifying. In the past week, Alaska Airlines threw its hat in the ring, three other low-cost carriers – Frontier, Allegiant, and Sun Country – banded together in opposition to a single airline receiving the movements, Spirit Airlines argued JetBlue should be disqualified from the bid, JetBlue reaffirmed its interest, and United made it clear it will not be giving up its position.

The Fight For Newark Slots Continues To Intensify
Airlines are making their arguments with the US government over Newark’s operations. Photo: Getty Images

Earlier this summer, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lost a lawsuit brought by Spirit Airlines over Newark operations. Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) is not slot-constrained, but there are limits to the number of movements per hour. After reducing the number of available movements, the lawsuit Spirit won has the FAA bringing back movements to the schedules, and airlines are making a play for them. However, all 16 peak-hour movements are destined to go to a single low-cost (LCC) or ultra-low-cost (ULCC) carrier. Read here for more of the story behind how Newark became contentious.

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Alaska Airlines plans to jump in the ring

Alaska Airlines commented on the proposal to bring 16 peak-hour movements back into Newark’s schedules. However, the carrier argued that the Department of Transportation (DOT), which is overseeing the allocation of Newark slots, should not consider airlines with higher-fare business models, nor should they consider airlines that already have substantial service at other New York City area airports. This takes direct aim at JetBlue, which has a sizable presence at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). It is also growing at New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA).

Alaska has previously been categorized as an “LCC carrier” in the context of New York, and it believes it should get the additional slots at Newark. Alaska highlighted its ability to operate in highly competitive markets served by dominant carriers as one example of why it would be able to do good for consumers with more operations.

Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines would primarily connect Newark with the western US. Photo: Getty Images

Moreover, Alaska Airlines argued that it has sought to increase its EWR services for years but has not been able to do so because of slot constraints. The same is true at JFK, and a perimeter rule at LGA keeps Alaska out of the airport. Alaska now wants to grow at Newark.

Alaska believes that its flights to the West Coast are deserving of the added timings. The carrier argues its flights have to deal with three-hour time differences, some overnight flights, and the need for efficient turn times as a reason why the 16 slots are better off with the carrier because it would expand flying to destinations further out on schedules that are beneficial for carriers.

Three ULCCs band together

Frontier Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, and Allegiant Air banded together to urge the DOT to allocate the 16 available peak runway timings equally to two carriers instead of just to one. These three carriers believe the allocation of 16 slots would limit airlines’ ability with models these three carriers have to come into Newark.

Los Angeles Exteriors And Landmarks - 2020
Frontier Airlines already flies to Newark. Photo: Getty Images

All three of these airlines typically operate peak-day flying. A daily or more than daily flight in their networks is quite rare. Most routes only see service a few times per week from these airlines. These airlines believe that allocating the slots to multiple airlines would mean more options for different city pairs and different offerings with the growth of two instead of one airline, making it a pro-competitive move.

Sun Country Boeing 737
Sun Country Airlines is also looking to grow its operations. Photo: Getty Images

These three carriers also noted that some ULCCs and LCCs are stretched thin enough, with multiple issues like aircraft and personnel availability limiting how quickly airlines can deploy assets to fill 16 new operations at Newark, especially considering that the Winter 2021/2022 season starts in just a few weeks.

The Fight For Newark Slots Continues To Intensify
Allegiant operates on a low-frequency model. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

JetBlue takes aim at United

JetBlue is still looking to get the slots at Newark. It highlighted how it has grown at Newark even though other airlines have shrunk their services. Since early 2020, the carrier has added new service to 29 destinations from EWR and flew up to 63 peak daily departures this past summer.

JetBlue pointed to United’s schedules. On November 9th, the carrier noted that United has scheduled 18 flights between EWR and Washington Reagan National (DCA) on 50-seat CRJ550s. Six of these flights are scheduled to arrive at Newark in the peak afternoon hours when congestion is a noted problem at the airport.

The Fight For Newark Slots Continues To Intensify
JetBlue has grown extensively out of Newark since the start of the crisis. Photo: Getty Images

JetBlue is also worried about the bundle of 16 runway timings constraining infrastructure. It wants to see the bundle split into two bundles of eight runway timings to absorb schedules into existing gate allocations without forcing airlines to split operations across terminals.

Spirit says JetBlue should be excluded

Spirit Airlines is pleased that the 16 runway timings are coming back to Newark’s schedules. The carrier is also bidding to get the slots, highlighting its success as a ULCC that flies more frequent schedules than an airline like Frontier and provides effective competition in major markets.

Spirit Airlines has also highlighted concerns of airlines flying to Newark with small aircraft and simply there for slot-blocking. It believes the DOT should require proposed services to be operated with an average aircraft seat capacity of at least 175 seats. This would certainly be a move that adds more capacity and competition at the airport.

The Fight For Newark Slots Continues To Intensify
Spirit has been eyeing more operations at Newark. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Spirit Airlines also argued that JetBlue should be excluded from consideration for the 16 movements. First off, the airline noted that JetBlue has a large position at JFK, meaning it already has a large base in the New York City area. Secondly, Spirit highlighted the challenge to the Northeast Alliance.

Spirit believes the codeshare between American and JetBlue should be considered in Newark slots. Furthermore, it states the challenge to the Northeast Alliance by the US government over antitrust violations in the New York City area should deem the airline ineligible to receive the slots in a move designed to increase competition.

United Airlines is not going anywhere

United Airlines is the largest carrier operating at Newark. It has a hub there that it uses to connect passengers to points across the world. The airline made it clear to the DOT that it is fine with more competition but would not support a move to take away any movements that it currently holds.

The Fight For Newark Slots Continues To Intensify
United has made it clear it is not abandoning its Newark hub. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

United made the case that the FAA still needs to work on congestion and delays at Newark. While new software is expected to be rolled out to target this, United is adamant that more needs to be done to reduce congestion, especially considering that delays impact United’s connecting flights off to Europe, Africa, and beyond.

United believes that the principal problems at Newark are congestion and delays and not competition. It points to the large operations at other New York City area operations as an example of the wide range of airlines that serve the market. It is not objecting to the additional movements, but it is making it clear it will not be giving up its movements, nor does it want to see Newark exceed 79 movements per peak-hour cap.