Southwest wants ATA's slots at New York LaGuardia

Southwest Airlines wants to fly to New York City's LaGuardia Airport, a market the airline has long avoided because of its congested skies and the difficulty in obtaining slots for takeoffs and landings.

The Dallas-based discount airline wants to take over slots at LaGuardia formerly controlled by ATA, a budget airline that shut down last year.

Southwest bid $7.5 million for 14 slots, airline officials said Wednesday. The slots would allow Southwest to fly up to seven daily round-trip flights at the airport.

Southwest officials said they would not take over any planes, equipment or airport facilities owned by ATA. Southwest didn’t say what destinations it would fly to from LaGuardia.

"It is our intent, with the successful conclusion of the transaction, to make plans to initiate service from LaGuardia," Gary Kelly, Southwest's chief executive, said in a statement. "Even in this volatile environment, we have said we must monitor the competitive landscape and take advantage of prudent market opportunities."

Southwest’s closest airport to New York City is Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, about 50 miles east of Manhattan. Many business travelers avoid that airport because of the long trip into New York after landing.

Bill Owen, a planner in the airline’s scheduling department, said there was no opportunity to build a realistic schedule at LaGuardia, because the airport is one of just four in the nation that requires airlines to hold slots for takeoffs and landings. Slots at the airport can be bought or sold but have rarely been available because of the heavy demand.

"Being able to secure arrival/departure slots that can be 'stitched together’ in such a way to enable us to begin enough service to make it economically viable for Southwest wasn’t realistic, let alone easy," he wrote in a post on the company’s blog.

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