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Delta wants 18 more flights at Love Field

Delta Air Lines, which is angling for gates at Dallas Love Field, said Thursday that it wants to add 18 daily nonstop flights there when the Wright Amendment restrictions are lifted next fall.

The Atlanta-based carrier, which offers five daily flights from Love to Atlanta using 50-seat regional jets, would add service to its other U.S. hub airports: New York LaGuardia, Los Angeles, Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul. And it would no longer have to use the smaller jets, which are required now to fly beyond the law’s geographic limits.

“Our new service at Dallas Love Field means more competition and options for North Texas travelers, and flights to our international hubs will provide convenient connections to international destinations in Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa,” Delta Senior Vice President Bob Cortelyou said in a statement.

“Dallas/Fort Worth is a top business market and critical to our strategy of connecting the world’s leading cities for business and commerce.”

The announcement marks the first specific plans laid out by any airline for Love Field when the Wright Amendment restrictions expire.

Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said the expansion at Love Field would not affect operations at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, where Delta operates 45 daily flights.

“This does not in any way change our commitment to DFW Airport,” he said. “We view both airports as part of our service to North Texas travelers.”

Banstetter said Delta can offer services that cater to business travelers out of Love Field as an alternative to Southwest Airlines, which does not have a first-class cabin or assigned seating. While he would not disclose load factors for its current service from Love Field to Atlanta, he said the carrier is pleased with its operating results on that route.

Delta uses Love Field gates leased from American Airlines, which does not fly from the airport. As part of a settlement with the Justice Department to allow the merger with US Airways, American must give up its two gates at Love Field. The airlines have also agreed to divest gates and slots at airports in Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and Miami.

Justice Department officials have said they intend to sell the divested gates and slots at Washington Reagan and New York LaGuardia airports to low-cost carriers to spur competition and lower fares for consumers.

At a Senate hearing Thursday, Bill Baer, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, said the government will talk to any carrier that can convince the department that it will use the divested slots and gates to compete aggressively.

“We have some concerns about whether the legacy carriers are really going to offer that competitive dynamic,” he said.

But Delta said it deserves a chance to bid.

Under the Wright Amendment compromise in 2006, Love Field was limited to 20 gates. Southwest controls 16 and operates most flights from the airport, where it is based. United Continental offers flights to Houston.

Aviation analyst Mike Boyd said other airlines already serving DFW Airport are unlikely to add service at Love Field.

“It would be a terrible strategic move,” Boyd said. “Why give up access to the consumers in the fastest-growing part of the Metroplex, which is west of DFW and north of DFW?”

He added that it makes sense for Delta to add service at Love because of its increased competition with Southwest in Atlanta since the Dallas-based airline added AirTran.

By adding routes at Love, Delta would pressure Southwest to fly those routes as well after the Wright Amendment restrictions expire.

Delta said it has almost 1,000 employees in the Metroplex with its operations at DFW, Love Field and a reservations center.

This report includes material from Bloomberg News.

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