Southwest Airlines announced in July that it would cease operations at New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). The announcement ignited a tarmac turf war with many airlines, including Spirit Airlines, JetBlue, and Frontier Airlines looking to fill the vacancies Southwest would leave.
Not every airline wants those routes filled, though. United Airlines (NASDAQ:UAL), a company that uses EWR as one of its eight U.S. hubs, would like to see no one pick up Southwest's old slots. United is looking to keep the competition out and hopefully curb EWR's problem with flight delays.
According to a flight data study by AirHelp, reported by Forbes, EWR ranked worst domestically in getting flights out on time. Just 63.9% of all flights between June and July of this year left on time. With the airport passenger count nearing 46 million in 2018, that's a lot of potentially unhappy customers.
Less congestion, i.e., fewer flights, could help the situation and thanks to a recent announcement by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), it looks like United Airlines may be getting its wish.
The FAA's guidance
In an Oct. 2 memorandum, the FAA and the Department of Transportation laid out scheduling guidance for new routes in the wake of Southwest's departure from Newark. Here are the major takeaways.
- New flights will not be approved by the FAA in peak hours for summer 2020 if operations are "at or above the applicable scheduling limits."
- The FAA will work with the DOT to monitor the effects of these scheduling reductions on airline competition and the airport's overall performance.
- Airlines looking to add routes during non-peak times may be approved. The memo does say the agencies expect to see availability changes in off-peak times moving forward.
- The memo states Southwest operated up to 40 different flights on a peak summer weekday at EWR. Roughly 16 of these flights fell during peak hours, which are already above the FAA's scheduling limits.
So for now, it looks like United Airlines will be getting its way. While the memo does not say definitively that no new routes will be added during peak hours, it does say they will only be added if they don't exceed limits. According to the most recent FAA operating limits for EWR, only 81 hourly flights are allowed during peak periods. It's important to note that this notice states an expiration date of Oct. 29, 2016, but no newer updates are available.
Since the FAA stated in its recent memo that limits are already exceeded, I wouldn't expect to see much added at least through the summer of next year. Airlines looking to pick up non-peak times may have some success, though, judging by the memo.