New Entrants are Blocked as DCA Slot Proceeding Gets Underway

DCA - Washington/National, Government Regulation

When the FAA was reauthorized by Congress last month, a provision was included to allow for five new daily roundtrips at Washington/National (DCA) airport. These aren’t just any old trips either; these are good for flights beyond the 1,250 mile perimeter that governs most operations at DCA. There had been a great deal of confusion around who might or might not qualify, but now we know. And as usual, it’s the incumbents that win the day.

In the announcement of proceedings issued on Monday, the feds explained the rules. There will be a total of five new roundtrips. Four of those will be given to non-limited incumbent carriers — but no airline can get more than one — and the other will go to a limited incumbent.

What is a limited incumbent, you ask? It’s any airline that holds or operates between 2 and 40 slots (20 roundtrips), and any slot exemptions are excluded from the count. That means Frontier, an airline that has only slot exemptions so it can fly beyond the perimeter to Denver, is out. There had been some discussion about Spirit being eligible since it has held slots in the past, but the feds say no. Oh, and these slots must be used only for domestic flying, so Air Canada is out.

With this, you might be wondering who is in. Well, it’s Alaska and… Alaska. But doesn’t Alaska also only have slot exemptions? Nope. Remember, it inherited a few slots from Virgin America when it bought the airline. It does not use them, but it leases them out, so those still count. Alaska has already said it will apply to fly to San Diego, and it will most definitely get it… unless Spirit is able to upend the proceeding.

Spirit has filed its intention to challenge Alaska for that slot pair, saying that it should be considered a limited incumbent even though it sold its slots at the airport more than a decade ago. It also says Alaska shouldn’t even qualify itself since it codeshares with American and that counts. It’s a worthwhile read if you’re curious to see more. I would be surprised if Spirit gets its way, but there might be some fun fireworks along the way.

How did Alaska find itself in such a sweet spot? It obviously has very good friends in Congress who had no qualms gifting the airline more access while denying other potential operators a shot.

On the non-limited incumbent side, it is as expected. American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United will play an epic game of musical chairs to see which airline is left out. So far, here’s what we know:

  • American wants San Antonio
  • Delta wants Seattle
  • JetBlue wants a second daily San Juan
  • Southwest wants Las Vegas with direct service on to Sacramento
  • United is unknown

The one thing we can safely assume is that American will get this flight to San Antonio. San Antonio is high up on the list of big cities with no service to DCA, and the airport has partnered with American to make this a reality. Consider it a lock even though American already has the vast majority of slots at the airport.

Delta and Southwest find themselves tied in second place. When it comes to Seattle, Alaska already does it twice a day. Meanwhile in Vegas, American does it once a day. So both already have service, though Southwest would add some value to Sacramento with the direct service. I can see each of these being worthwhile, but with flights already in the market, does it make sense? Here’s what the feds have to say about it:

FAA 2024 directs the Department to consider the extent to which the exemptions will: (i) enhance options for nonstop travel to beyond-perimeter airports that do not have nonstop service from DCA as of the date of enactment of FAA 2024; or (ii) have a positive impact on the overall level of competition in the markets that will be served as a result of those exemptions.

Each of these clearly falls into section (ii), so nobody would fault the feds for awarding slots to both Delta and Southwest. And considering what JetBlue has done, I’d imagine these two will safely get their slots.

What did JetBlue do? I had wondered if it might try something crazy like apply for San Jose (California) service. After all, that’s the new route that Spirit tried to get. Or perhaps it might try Salt Lake. But instead, JetBlue has gone with a very strange move, shooting for a second daily San Juan flight. To be fair, this is absolutely a smart move from a revenue and strategy standpoint for the airline, but it’s just not very compelling for DOT. This neither provides a new nonstop destination nor provides enhanced competition. I don’t see how JetBlue gets this unless United does something even less compelling, and that would be hard to do.

I’m guessing United isn’t going to go for anything too crazy here. It’ll look to connect a hub, and that means adding one daily to the one it already has from SFO or Denver… or possibly trying for one daily from LAX. You know the old saying that if you’re hiking with a friend and encounter a bear, you don’t have to outrun the bear… just your friend. In this case, United just needs to outrun JetBlue’s weak application.

I would think LAX would be easy to suggest it would enhance competition. Denver or SFO would just fall into the same situation as JetBlue, but United might win by default if the the feds may want to give United something since its Dulles hub suffers the most every time more flights are added at DCA.

One other thing to consider is when these flights could actually operate. The feds say this:

After the final order, we will direct selected carriers to work with the FAA Slot Administration
Office to assign slot times corresponding with the authority granted in this proceeding and in
accordance with the requirements of FAA 2024. Under 49 U.S.C. § 41718(c)(2), the Secretary
may not increase the number of operations at DCA by more than five in any of 15 one-hour
periods between 7:00 a.m. and 9:59 p.m. EST. Many hours have already reached the statutory
cap with existing exemptions and therefore not all requests will be able to be granted

Assuming I’m doing the math right, 8am-8:59am, 11am-11:59am, 1pm-159pm, and 3pm-659pm are all full, so these will need to operate outside those times. For the West Coast, that means a morning departure won’t work. We’re probably looking at departing around noon or later and then overnighting the airplane.

But for San Antonio or Denver, there are more options. Imagine an arrival at 12:59pm with a departure at 2, for example. Of course, Vegas could do a redeye… when Southwest starts flying those. Or I wonder if it’s possible that existing airlines could retime one of their short-haul operations to let the slot exemption sneak in at the best time. I’m sure this is all part of the airline consideration set since they do have to submit preferred timings with their applications.

The airlines have until July 8 to get all their filings in, and comments must be received by July 17. Then, it’s up to the government to decide who will win… except for Alaska. The government already decided that one.


You love Canada. We all do. So come have a listen on Spotify/Apple Podcasts/Amazon/Pocket Casts when we dive into WestJet when it goes live later today.

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43 comments on “New Entrants are Blocked as DCA Slot Proceeding Gets Underway

  1. … in the 1960s the system was buckling. The number of flights, and the number of PAXs was growing and growing. The system could not handle it. Then larger jets came along, and the number of flights stagnated, but the number of PAXs continued to grow rapidly.
    … Are we going to see such an event again? If airports, and the citizens around them, demand a cap on the number of flights, the glory days of the single aisle plane might be over.
    … When is that turning point? Or will our system only decentralize more to accommodate the increasing number of flights?

    1. You also have to keep the airport’s physicality / layout in mind: I dont think anyone will be flying a heavy (excepting the 757) into DCA….

    2. That day will come as suburban sprawl continues & that sprawl will end up adjacent to a major airport. Soon after an astro turf funded group will start protests & demand curfews & flight restrictions. HPN & SNA already have such restrictions in place thanks to their wealthy neighbors, but as ” Kevin’s & Karen’s” get more emboldened with the attention they will receive thanks to favorable news coverage. As a result, this problem will expand & have ripple effects through the entire network.

    3. DCA has plenty of 76-pax regionals buzzing around, so there are certainly opportunities to push more people through the airport without increasing flight count. Until WN is only flying -800s/MAX8s out of there, and DL/UA/AA are on 321neos, flight count won’t be the upper limit, though even with the improvements to the AA part of the airport terminal space might be.

      In any event, WN can carry 175 pax per flight, AA/UA/DL can carry ~190 on their biggest common narrowbody, and AS is in that neighborhood as well. ULCCs can carry 200+. Which is why widebody flights intra-lower-48 are quite rare; airlines would rather increase frequency, add point to point service, or route people around congested hubs. See: DL runs an absurd number of banks out of ATL and the airport is generally able to keep up, while AA similarly runs a bunch of banks out of DFW…and I don’t think AA runs lower-48 widebody service out of DFW at all except maybe the odd repositioning flight to another hub.

      Using an example closer to home, AUS was basically at capacity in its main terminal for a few years (ending this spring) primarily because AA wanted to beat WN at their own game…with half-full E75s. AUS is now down on flight count year over year but is carrying more passengers because there are more 737-800/MAX8s flying in/out of here and they’re fuller. So we’ll probably hit 22.5 million pax this year on fewer flights than 22 million took last year.

      1. good comments…
        actual schedule data shows that, for the domestic system in the 1st half of 2024, AA had an average of 122 seats/dept, UA had 124, DL had 134 and WN had 159.

        The average average size for AA in DCA is less than 90 passengers and only slightly higher for AA and DL at LGA. Perimeter restrictions make normal US domestic trends worse.

        AA is moving toward smaller aircraft on average because of the high use of RJs – AA has the lowest share of mainline aircraft on its domestic system at 53%, DL is the highest at 67% – while just about everyone else is moving toward larger aircraft.

        to your point, DCA is not limited by the ability of the terminal to handle more passengers and neither is LGA esp. after the terminal rebuild.

        1. Part of the equation is that Americans has a disproportionately large number of “commuter” slots at DCA. The aircraft that can fly those flights are limited to 76 seats.

          1. It’s true that American has more of the ‘commuter’ slots for RJs than other carriers, but that’s still not a meaningful constraint on their capacity.

            Something like 30% of AA’s DCA slots are commuter slots, the rest are mainline.

            For the airport as a whole, it’s more like 20% of overall slots are for RJs, and yet 56% of the planes (for all carriers) are RJs.

            So, within the law, lots of room to grow via increased gauge. That would probably introduce some additional gate and airfield issues, but nothing too unmanageable.

        2. American would rather have 5 or 6 daily departures on smaller aircraft than 3 larger ones. Its more efficient for the airport side, allowing them to space the work out during the day, with fewer employees.

      2. Based on the network AA flies from DCA, I’d expect the 75 seaters to stay. The permieter rule limits their ability to fly mainline from DCA because they serve mostly small to mid-sized communitied within the perimeter to fill slots, and also to appease politicians whose districts could not support mainline service. Think HSV, CHA, BHM, MGM, and about a dozen others. It’s perhaps the best argument for lifting perimeter restrictions at LGA and DCA where valuable airport access is squandered on 50-76-seaters.

        1. But, as we’ve discussed, to lift the perimeter you need the votes from people who represent HSV, CHA, BHM, MGM and those dozen others – you need them to vote to cut off their own access to the airport.

  2. I am surprised no one is going for “San Francisco Bay International Airport” (sorry i just had to). But I do find it interesting that adding a second flight to SLC has more traction than adding a second flight to Portland, when 5 or 6 years ago that was the hot airport to compete in…

    1. I really hope United does, it is by far the most underserved of the outside the perimeter airports. We need that a lot more than another flight to SLC or even Seattle.

  3. While this is fun to speculate on, aren’t we all waiting for the day when they get around to doing this at LGA? Fat chance but fun to think about.

    1. ChuckMO – The LGA perimeter rule (like DCA’s and the old Wright amendment) is so outdated as to defy logic. You can fly to LAX on Saturday only? Please – give me a break! I would love to see it rescinded. It would change the dynamic of the NYC metro area air travel “O-D” market – for the better.

      The combination of a lack of members of Congress wanting non-stops (if anything, for their staff members even if they don’t use them sometimes for “optics”) and deep local misunderstandings that “if we let them go to California from LaGuardia the noise in Elmhurst or Flushing will be soooo much louder” is so misinformed as to defy credulity and borders on the disingenuous from those that wish to keep the perimeter rule in place.

      And, to be clear – I understand slot restrictions would remain, along with any technical limitations on aircraft type at LGA (although those are fewer and less relevant today than in the 1960s). I just want to see the silly perimeter rule removed.

      Enough.

      1. First, there’s a difference in authority:

        LGA’s perimeter rule is not set by congress, but by the Port Authority.

        DCA’s perimeter rule is a federal law set by Congress.

        Second, the dynamics in Congress are different here. It’s not that some members don’t want more long haul flights (they do – which is why they’ve added these exemptions now 4 different times – and why they extended the perimeter from 650 miles to 1,000 miles and then to 1,250 miles). The main issue is that flights into DCA are inherently a zero-sum game, because of the slot restrictions.

        If you repealed the perimeter rule entirely, the effect would be immediate: lots more flights to long-haul destinations, which means fewer flights from smaller, short-haul destinations.

        All of those short-haul, small city airports have representatives in Congress, too – and they don’t want to lose access. There’s even a whole category of within-perimeter exemptions (including flights to LEX, MSN, OMA, LAN, and maybe a few others?)

        That’s why Congress has landed on exemptions as the ‘solution’ here to avoid the zero-sum problem. Which has worked OK because of the GA restrictions at DCA meaning that the slots reserved each hour for GA or unscheduled operations aren’t often used. But they’ve now filled most of them up and there’s just not a good way to avoid the actual constraint of slot controls.

        1. Alex B. – Understood, and completely agree.

          But the fact that it is the PANYNJ that governs the perimeter rule at LGA (and not Congress) is (to me) besides the point – the LGA perimeter is nonetheless absurd and past any usefulness or reason for being.

          And be aware that the same political dynamic you cite for DCA vis-a-vis small markets fearing the loss of nonstop service to DCA also exists at LaGuardia: whenever the idea of abolishing the perimeter rule is floated, the folks most against it (outside of vested airline interests) are elected representatives from the smaller market communities within the existing perimeter that fear losing nonstop access to LGA, such as Rochester, Syracuse, et cetera.

          No matter who set the perimeter rule and who controls it, my opinion is simply that they all should simply be abolished. Slot controls are necessary for aviation capacity control and safety, so their regulatory role is clear, but perimeter rules are an obsolete and unnecessary anachronism.

          If we are to have an airline industry that is supposedly “deregulated” in terms of commercial decisions, then let the airlines decide where to fly from LGA, as long as the aircraft is technically able (and, of course, if outside the U.S. it has customs preclearance). Otherwise, let’s re-regulate the industry and tell airlines where to fly, and for how much.

          1. I can at least see a rationale for the perimeter rules at DCA and LGA; these airports are small and have no opportunities to meaningfully add capacity. They are also each part of an airport system, with their larger cousins (IAD and JFK) with capability for growth and larger planes.

            In other words, as a demand management policy for airport systems, they can make sense.

            Now, does IAD *need* a perimeter rule at DCA to support it? No, but that’s also not a compelling reason to get rid of the restriction.

            1. Alex B. – I agree – to a point.

              JFK can handle larger airliners, but it by no means has additional capacity.

              Given the dynamics of geography in terms of access, transit connections, et cetera, I still feel that the O-D market would be better served if we let the airlines determine how best to use their slots.

              And none of these arguments are ever cited, by the way, by proponents of the perimeter rule – it is always about “noise from more planes”, showing the fundamental disconnect they have with the facts.

              And again – why have it every day except Saturday?

              Silly and an anachronism.

            2. Yes, I’d agree that repealing the perimeter would better serve O/D customers. But part of the reason the perimeter persists is because there is not agreement that better serving the O/D customers is the right policy.

              For DCA in particular, the locals are opposed to changing the perimeter for a variety of reasons, but mainly because the status quo works just fine. The airports authority is opposed because they want a stable and predictable environment to plan capital projects for both DCA and IAD. In the DC region in particular, DCA is what it is – the region has built and invested in IAD as the place to grow air traffic.

              Yes, the arguments about noise aren’t exactly on the level. In their defense, because the perimeter exemptions are net additions in the total number of flights, there is an actual increase in flights and therefore noise.

            3. DCA perimeter rule hurts IAD and arguably east coast traffic flows.

              DCA perimeter rule means a long-haul/short-haul split between DCA/IAD in terms of O&D. That hamstrings IAD in terms of its potential has a hub.

              The same was once true of LGA/JFK, but JFK has hit its capacity anyway, so its harder to argue now.

              But it’s insanely bad public policy in terms of IAD/DCA. IAD is the only big airport with real operational integrity on the coast from DC north to Boston – only one with functioning independently operable runways in bad weather situations. It ought to be a substantial hub. But it’s not, because the O&D in the DC area is screwed up by the perimeter rule.

              As a practical matter, eliminating the perimeter rule would be hard, because too many congresspeople benefit from the status quo. If you eliminated it, however, what would happen is a lot of shorter haul flying would be kicked over to IAD. That in term would make that airport so much better as a hub, as a gateway, etc.

            1. Ian L – Agreed – that’s another reason why I feel that the perimeter rule is silly – it disallows the use of commercial aviation for what it is best suited (longer distances) and discourages the use of HSR for the shorter flights.

              LGA is indeed part of a metropolitan airport system, but it by no means should be limited to shorter flights. I suspect that by having the perimeter rule, it creates more emissions with additional connecting flights at other hubs which could perhaps have (1) been better served with nonstop service to LGA or (2) have had a modal shift onto rail (and at one point HSR) if the market weren’t so warped by the perimeter rule.

            2. Virginia is making multiple infrastructure improvements to improve the Amtrak corridor from DC to Richmond: https://vapassengerrailauthority.org/transformingrail/. It will be a long process, but by 2030 Amtrak trains will generally not conflict with freight trains on that route, and will be able to run at or near the 90 mph maximum imposed by CSX for most of the route.

              There is a longer-term project to build a greenfield rail route from Richmond to Raleigh with a 110 mph design speed: https://www.ncdot.gov/divisions/rail/s-line-projects/raleigh-richmond/Pages/what-happening-now.aspx. It just got funding for design recently, and as far as I know there’s no construction timeline set yet.

              Even once it is extended to Raleigh, it will affect very few flights. RIC already doesn’t have service to DCA. It might reduce RDU-DCA from the current ~7 flights a day to somewhat less than that.

              There also aren’t many other flights from DCA that I would consider candidates for a HSR corridor? The closest options are:

              – PHL: Will likely stay, to connect to AA’s transcon flights. Rail connection is already great, so anyone flying is doing so for other reasons.

              – NYC: Similar to PHL.

              – PIT: Not a good HSR candidate, because the terrain in between DC and Pittsburgh has low population density and mountains that would require a lot of expensive tunneling.

              – CRW: Similar to PIT

              – ORF: Current Amtrak alignment follows a “J”-shaped route that adds unnecessary distance and bypasses population centers on the peninsula (Williamsburg, Newport News, and Hampton). A “good” alignment would require an expensive tunnel under the James, which would be a megaproject by itself. Cost would not be justifiable because Norfolk/Virginia Beach is a “dead end” – there’s no obvious place for the train to continue from there.

              – RDU: In progress (in design phases) as mentioned in another comment. Would only affect a small % of DCA traffic volume, though.

          2. “the folks most against it (outside of vested airline interests) are elected representatives from the smaller market communities within the existing perimeter that fear losing nonstop access to LGA, such as Rochester, Syracuse, et cetera.”

            I can’t speak for Rochester, but Syracuse has no shortage of flights to the NYC area on AA, UA, Delta, and Jet Blue. They obviously all don’t go to LGA, but EWR and JFK are often more suitable airports (ok, maybe not EWR) depending on the ultimate destination.

          3. I’m curious to know what cities beyond the perimeter are missing out that can not be flown into JFK or EWR? Is it a convenience thing because you live right next to LGA

  4. I thought the government wasn’t supposed to pick winners & losers? Well, that is what libertarians’ always say anyway.

  5. Good rundown on the situation – thanks! But how the FAA / DOT “simplify” things, boggles the mind!

  6. While it might be fashionable to pile on the incumbents for beating everyone else to the trough for exemption slots, a couple factors need to be considered:

    1. While DCA, JFK and LGA are federally slot controlled and historically there was little presence by low cost or ultra low cost carriers, that is no longer true. LCC and ULCC presence at both airports is fairly close to being in line with their national market shares.

    2. LCCs and ULCCs were given special treatment for previous slot allocations at both LGA and DCA while B6 was gifted a bunch of JFK slots in order to get started; it is not unreasonable that a reverse “fencing” should now take place.

    3. These perimeter exemptions are more about serving a city outside the perimeter than they are about increasing LCC/ULCC access. The same allocation process is being used as is used for international route applications – essentially a mini-route allocation proceeding.

    4. There are people that argued that DCA should not have any more flights, let alone any more large jet flights and the FAA is partly listening to those concerns. They made it clear that coordinating the times for these new flights will not be easy. It is much easier for an airline that has a decent slot portfolio to swap slots within its portfolio than it is for a new or small player to try to add another in a small or currently non-existent DCA slot portfolio.

    5. NK is complaining that they should be included and yet they got rid of their previous slots – there are differing versions of what happened. But the point is that there have been multiple preferential opportunities for LCCs and ULCCs to serve slot-controlled airports and they haven’t always been successful. Because this is essentially a route allocation process, it is too risky to allow someone into the process that hasn’t proven that they intend to stick around given that being awarded a flight also means blocking someone else.

    Specific to the requests themselves, it is also noteworthy that there are a shrinking number of cities that can support slot exemption flights at DCA. Most of the new flights will duplicate something that already exists. The merits of perimeter exemptions is reaching its end point if the primary objective is to grant new access to DCA from the western US.

    And UA is still the biggest loser in all of this as every new outside the perimeter flight takes some amount of demand that otherwise has to go to IAD (or to a lesser extent BWI or via a connection).

  7. I don’t get why Spirit of JetBlue would have any interest of flying DCA-SJC. The Bay Area already has two flights to SFO and long haul flights have not performed particularly well at SJC. JetBlue and Delta have dumped JFK-SJC. The only airport in the eastern time zone that has seen any success is Atlanta and that’s because of Delta’s huge hub.

    I think AS would have won with SAN-DCA anyway even if the law wasn’t tailored to them. It’s a market that makes sense. I also get AA serving SAT and Delta serving SE. I would think United would want SFO.

    1. I would be curious to know how B6 SJC-BOS flight on the A220 is doing. I’ve flown it a couple of times. It’s sorta of a bit too early as a red-eye because of the curfew at SJC, but the timing on the outbound from BOS is reasonably convenient to support flying out after the work day in BOS. The few times I’ve flown it I recall the load factor being fairly healthy. (Actually I think demand pricing probably give me the answer, because at least twice I think I’ve split my ticket and done BOS-SFO westbound and SJC-BOS eastbound because the SJC flight was cheaper than the SFO flight)

      1. I figured if it had enough business, it would be flown year round and on an A320. Delta has either 2 or 3 flights a day to Atlanta. AA tried CLT and aren’t doing that anymore and United doesn’t go to EWR or IAD.

        1. Shocked that United no longer has the nerd bird from IAD to SJC. Flew that a number of times.

          That certainly underscores the stupidity of a DCA-SJC flight being granted a precious perimeter exemption. If United can’t make it work out of a HUB airport, there’s no chance it could succeed from DCA with no connecting feed.

  8. It’s usually funny to read the legal wrangling in the various arguments that are presented in cases like this. Let the games begin.

  9. I have to assume Southwest is confident that it will get the Vegas flight, if they had doubts I assume they would have bid for Sacramento or Albuquerque.

  10. Looking at the places served from DCA, I’m actually surprised WN wouldn’t maybe want ABQ-DCA. I would imagine a fair amount of GSA fare passengers between the two metros given all the federal activity in the ABQ metro. Seems like the sort of middle market that they need to do better in to please the investors.

  11. You do realize that flannel was an LA/San Francisco metal thing long before it became a Seattle grunge thing…?

  12. You can actually download a spreadsheet with the passenger counts and contracted fares for each route in the GSA city pair program.

    Passenger volume on GSA fares between ABQ and the DC area is actually not that high – around ~6,000 passengers per year, with ~60% of them flying from DCA:

    ABQ-DCA: 3,694
    ABQ-IAD: 1,395
    ABQ-BWI: 906

    Compare to the ~27,600 passengers per year between San Diego and DC:

    SAN-DCA: 12,522
    SAN-IAD: 7,838
    SAN-BWI: 7,236

    Or the 19,700 passengers per year between San Antonio and DC:

    SAT-DCA: 9,363
    SAT-IAD: 4,366
    SAT-BWI: 5,954

    (Though note that GSA city pair data only includes travel by federal employees, not contractors. Contractors travel is correlated to government travel, so you could apply a multiplier to the numbers above and get a rough estimate on “federal government-paid travel”)

    The other factor to consider is that Southwest already has the GSA city pair contract for ABQ-DCA – those passengers are already customers.

    By contrast, AA could potentially win the DCA-SAT contract (and its ~9,400 annual passengers) from Southwest by introducing nonstop service that competes with Southwest’s current connecting service.

    Based on the GSA city pair data, the highest-volume routes that are served by connecting service in the current contract are:

    1. SAN: 12,500 annual passengers. Alaska will compete for this with their new nonstop, but I’m not sure that one flight per day will be enough to get it. Their connecting itineraries are awful. GSA might stick with a connecting contract with one of the legacies.

    2. SAT: 9,400 annual passengers. AA will probably lock this up with a daily nonstop + existing connecting options.

    3. HNL: Outside the range of any existing aircraft that can operate from DCA. Passengers will need to connect or take the silver line to IAD for a nonstop for the foreseeable future.

    4. ELP: 4,800 annual passengers. It turns out Fort Bliss is really, really big. But the metro area around it is comparatively small: population ~870k, and not growing much.

    5. COS: 4,700 annual passengers. But it’s in a smaller metro area (population: 765k), and it’s close enough to DEN that locals are willing to make the drive up there for nonstops or cheaper fares.

    6. TUS: 3,700 annual passengers. In a mid-sized metro area (population: ~1m) with a reasonable mix of demand sources (government + University of Arizona + seasonal tourism). But at the same time, no airline is currently serving TUS from any of their eastern hubs (excluding DL from ATL), so demand is likely weaker than it looks on paper.

    7. ABQ: 3,700 annual passengers, metro area population ~925k. Discussed above.

    8. SMF: 2,000 annual passengers. Getting down into the range where federal government travel isn’t a significant driver of overall demand.

    1. My conclusion is that SAN and SAT are the obvious low-hanging fruit with underserved demand. Southwest would have been a more obvious candidate for the DCA-SAN route, because they have much better connecting options throughout the day than Alaska does, but Alaska got the deal with the airport.

      Given that situation, I think LAS is a reasonable choice among the remaining options. They might be able to win the GSA city pair contract (~5,000 annual passengers) from AA, and even if they don’t there is a reasonably deep well of demand for travel to LAS for multiple reasons (government contractors, professional conferences, and obviously tourism). I don’t see the onward connection to SMF as a big differentiator in the market, but it obviously helps sell it during this process.

      1. Alex thanks for all the analysis! It would seem to support several of the proposals being floated. Definitely a big drop-off from SAN/SAT to the rest of the pack.

        1. Exactly why I’m hopeful for SAN, SAT as new destinations and then additional service to SFO, SEA and LAS. I mean God forbid they should consider the needs of those of us who actually live here!

  13. The bold choice would have been for AA to apply for SMF-DCA and WN to apply for SAT-DCA. Major missed (and deserved) loss for Sacramento. #Cap2Cap

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