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Lawmakers urge bidding for gates in airline merger

By David Koenig

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 22 2013 3:22 p.m. MST

Four key members of Congress say that all airlines — not just low-fare carriers — should be able to bid on gates and landing rights that American Airlines and US Airways will give up after their merger.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

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DALLAS — Four key members of Congress say that all airlines — not just low-fare carriers — should be able to bid on gates and landing rights that American Airlines and US Airways will give up after their merger.

The leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees say they're worried that unless the big airlines can bid, service between Washington and some smaller cities may be lost.

The U.S. Justice Department settled a lawsuit challenging the merger earlier this month after American and US Airways agreed to give up gates and landing rights at several big airports, notably Washington's Reagan National Airport. Officials said those assets would go to low-cost airlines because the big, so-called legacy airlines — the biggest being United and Delta — had stifled competition.

On Friday, top Democrats and Republicans on the transportation committees released a letter that they sent to Attorney General Eric Holder urging that bidding be open to all airlines. They said that low-cost carriers don't generally fly to smaller cities, so freezing out the big airlines won't help consumers in those places.

The settlement was widely viewed as likely to benefit Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways, two self-avowed low-cost carriers that have indicated interest in getting some of the American and US Airways landing rights at Reagan National.

However, Delta had also expressed interest in picking up landing rights at Reagan National and two gates that American agreed to surrender at Dallas Love Field. "We do believe that all airlines should have an opportunity to bid on the divested assets," Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said Friday.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins responded that legacy airlines already dominate Reagan and New York's LaGuardia airports. Letting them bid on American and US Airways gates and slots "defeats the very purpose of the divestiture — to create lower fares, more competition, and better flight options for consumers," he said.

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