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AMR in Merger Should Lose All Washington Slots: Jetblue

AMR Corp.’s American Airlines should have to cede the equivalent of all its flights at Washington’s Reagan National Airport if the planned merger with US Airways Group Inc. goes forward, JetBlue Airways Corp.’s chief executive officer said.

US Airways has 55 percent of flights at the airport near the city’s downtown, and no carrier should be allowed to exceed that figure, CEO Dave Barger said today in an interview in Washington.

“That should be the ceiling,” Barger said after speaking to a U.S. National Transportation Safety Board forum. “We feel very strongly.”

The CEO’s comments were the most specific yet about the merger from New York-based JetBlue, which competes against US Airways and American at Reagan National. The U.S. Justice Department has sued to block the merger as anti-competitive, saying a combined carrier would control 69 percent of flights at the airport, where capacity is restricted by U.S. regulators.

Barger, 55, and other JetBlue officials previously called for a combined American-US Airways to give up an unspecified number of flights in Washington. US Airways and American executives have said that there is enough competition in the region because travelers can use two other airports.

US Airways, the fifth-largest U.S. airline, went to 55 percent of flight slots at Reagan National in 2011 from 44 percent in a trade that let Delta Air Lines Inc. grow at New York’s LaGuardia airport. Fort Worth, Texas-based American, the third-biggest U.S. carrier, is restructuring in bankruptcy.

The 2011 accord allowing expansion by Tempe, Arizona-based US Airways at Reagan National should be the benchmark for what should be permitted in any merger negotiations, Barger said.

Barger, who has said he doesn’t oppose the merger outright, declined to speculate on whether the U.S. will reach a negotiated settlement allowing the two carriers to combine.

“We’re on the sidelines,” he said.

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