Spirit is about to get bigger at Newark, wins flights vacated by Southwest

Jul 5, 2022

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Spirit Airlines has won the right to operate more flights at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).

The Miramar, Florida-based ultra-low-cost carrier on Tuesday beat out JetBlue in a long-running competition run by the U.S. Department of Transportation for 16 peak-hour runway timings at EWR. A runway timing is similar to a slot, though Newark is considered to be “schedule-facilitated” rather than slot controlled, so the rules are somewhat less stringent.

The 16 runway timings — enough for eight round-trip flights — were vacated by Southwest Airlines when it consolidated its New York City-area operations at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in November 2019. The next month, Spirit sued the DOT for not reallocating the runway timings to other airlines. Federal officials at the time cited congestion as the reason for why they were not reallocated. Spirit won that lawsuit and has now won the runway timings — a proceeding where it was considered the favorite.

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In addition to JetBlue seeking all 16 runway timings, Alaska Airlines sought four of the timings, DOT said.

However, Spirit’s victory might be short-lived. Spirit could soon be acquired by JetBlue in a $33.50-per-share cash deal worth about $3.7 billion. Should JetBlue prevail over Frontier Airlines in winning control of Spirit, JetBlue has promised to divest Spirit’s assets in certain regions, including the Northeast. That would presumably include the runway timings at EWR.

Spirit’s shareholders are set to vote on the Frontier deal on Friday.

As a condition of accepting the timings, DOT is requiring Spirit to report additional data about customer disruptions and the airline’s ability to provide accommodations to passengers facing delays and cancelations. The airline industry has faced significant operational issues this summer — and there seems to be no end in sight.

More: United will cut flights from Newark as delays and congestion get worse

Newark in particular has been a hotbed of delays and cancelations. Last month, the airport’s dominant carrier, United Airlines, voluntarily agreed to cut up to 50 domestic flights per day in an effort to stem the delays. For months, United executives — including the airline’s CEO — have accused JetBlue and Spirit of not abiding by the airport’s schedule facilitation rules. FAA rules cap Newark at 79 operations per hour.

In a statement, Spirit said it was glad the process was over.

“We’re pleased to see this process come to a conclusion, and we’ll continue to promote competition and offer affordable, high-value travel options for Guests traveling in and out of the New York Metropolitan area,” an airline spokesperson said.

Featured photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

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