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JetBlue Buys 12 Slot Pairs at Washington’s Reagan

JetBlue Airways Corp. said it will buy the rights to add 12 round-trip flights at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport being shed by American Airlines as a condition for its merger with US Airways Group Inc.

Also being acquired from American are so-called slots for eight other round trips now being leased by New York-based JetBlue, according to a statement today that didn’t elaborate on the terms.

The deal was the first among carriers vying for more access to Reagan, one of only four airports with U.S. flight curbs to damp congestion. Southwest Airlines Co. plans to issue an update “soon” on the slots auction, a spokeswoman, Whitney Eichinger, said by e-mail. Telephone and e-mail messages left for comment with Virgin America Inc. weren’t immediately returned.

“American is working on definitive agreements with a number of carriers,” said Casey Norton, an airline spokesman who works at Weber Shandwick. The new American Airlines Group Inc. was formed in December when former American parent AMR Corp. merged with US Airways Group Inc.

JetBlue rose 6.1 percent to $9.02 at 10:40 a.m. in New York after a 7 percent jump that was the most in intraday trading since Nov. 12. Michael Linenberg, a Deutsche Bank AG analyst, raised his rating on the shares late yesterday to buy from hold.

U.S. Approval

The airline said its agreement with American still requires approval from the U.S. Justice Department, which required divestitures at Reagan and New York’s LaGuardia airports under a settlement of its antitrust lawsuit to block the merger.

Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment about the auction.

The slot sale fulfills the government’s demand that buyers be airlines that would expand competition and offer more low fares. The Justice Department had argued that the merger would let Fort Worth, Texas-based American dominate the airport closest to downtown Washington.

American was required to divest 104 slots, or enough for 52 round trips at Reagan. Each slot allows for one takeoff or landing. Southwest and Virgin America split a sale of slot pairs in December at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

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