US will give runway rights at NJ airport to a budget airline

FILE - In this Jan. 19, 2021 file photo, a Spirit Airlines Airbus A320 takes off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The budget airline will get a chance to add flights at the busy airport in Newark, New Jersey, just outside New York City. The Transportation Department said Thursday that it will give coveted afternoon and evening runway rights to a low-cost airline. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Transportation Department said Thursday it will give rights for several afternoon and evening flights in Newark, New Jersey, to a budget airline to drive down fares.

The coveted takeoff and landing rights were previously used by Southwest Airlines, which pulled out of Newark Liberty International Airport in 2019 and consolidated its New York City-area operations at LaGuardia Airport.

The Transportation Department said Thursday that it plans to allow a single low-cost or ultra-low-cost carrier to use the Southwest runway slots, which are enough for eight daily round-trip flights. Deputy Transportation Secretary Polly Trottenberg said the move will give travelers more choices and lower prices.

The decision follows a federal court victory earlier this year by Spirit Airlines over the Federal Aviation Administration. Spirit, which wants to expand at Newark, sued after the FAA originally planned to eliminate the Southwest takeoff and landing rights. The FAA said retiring the Southwest slots would reduce congestion.

New York-based JetBlue praised the decision to offer the slights to a low-cost carrier and said it plans to apply.

“JetBlue has long advocated for more opportunities which will allow smaller carriers to grow and compete against legacy carriers — particularly at congested airports across greater New York City,” said an airline spokesman, Philip Stewart. “One of the most common requests from our customers is more JetBlue service at the New York metro area’s three major airports.”

Spirit and other U.S. discount airlines that operate at Newark declined to comment or did not immediately respond.

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