Virgin America claims some of AA's slots at D.C.'s Reagan

Virgin America will get a little bit bigger at Washington's Reagan National Airport (DCA). The carrier announced this afternoon that it was successful in its bid for additional landing rights there.

The San Francisco-based company bid on 8 slots – or four "slot pairs." In airline vernacular, a slot is the right to operate one takeoff or one landing. A pair, then, would allow a carrier the rights to operate one round-trip flight. DCA is one of just a handful of U.S. airports where takeoff and landing rights are capacity controlled by a slot system.

Virgin America's new DCA flight rights come from the 52 slot pairs – or the rights to 52 round-trip flights – that are being divested by American and US Airways in a deal with Justice that cleared the way for their merger. American and US Airways also had to give up flight rights or gate space at other airports, including at New York LaGuardia (LGA), Chicago O'Hare and others.

"In response to the creation of now four 'mega-airlines,' the Justice Department has taken important steps to allow some new entrant competition in major markets like LGA and DCA," said Virgin America President and CEO David Cush.

It was not immediately clear how Virgin America might use the D.C. slots. In another unusual rule at DCA, most flights are restricted to a 1,250-mile "perimeter" around the airport. Congress has acted during the past decade to add some "beyond-perimeter exemptions" to that rule, though those exemptions cover only a small portion of DCA's overall flight schedule. Virgin America's slots are not thought to be exempt.

Both of Virgin America's hubs – San Francisco and Los Angeles – are well beyond the distance restrictions specified in the so-called perimeter rule.

Virgin America spokeswoman Abby Lunardini tells USA TODAY, "We are not asking for an exception. However, we will plan to announce the updates to our network based on these slot acquisitions later this month.''

British tycoon Richard Branson owns a minority stake in Virgin America.

As for the other 52 slot pairs being given up by AA, Southwest has already announced that it won approval for 27 while JetBlue says it received 12.

In addition, JetBlue had already been leasing 8 slot pairs (8 round-trip flights) from American, which it will take permanent control of per the agreement between AA/US Airways and Justice.

With that, Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America now say they have been awarded a combined 51 slots pairs – including the 8 already in use by JetBlue.

That would appear to leave only one of AA's 52 divested slot pairs remaining unaccounted for.

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