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Southwest Airlines wants ATA's New York LaGuardia slots

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 is only bidding on the slots - the airline 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," said Gary Kelly, Southwest’s chief executive, in a prepared statement. "Even in this volatile environment, we have said we must monitor the competitive landscape and take advantage of prudent market opportunities."

The closest airport serves 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 never any 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.

"We’ve known for years how huge the immediate New York City market was, but we didn’t have a realistic way to shoe-horn ourselves in," he said. "Until now."

If it obtains the slots, Southwest may finding it challenging to maintain its on-time performance at LaGuardia.

New York's three major airports - Newark, LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy - are infamous for delays due to overcrowded skies.

The airports routinely have the worst on-time performance in the nation. Last month, for example, 74 percent of flights arrived on time at LaGuardia, well below the national average of 81 percent, according to

And the three New York airports had the worst on-time records in the nation during the month.

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