Virgin America Eyeing Reagan, Newark

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USA Today's Ben Mutzabaugh reports that Virgin America, which recently added Chicago and Dallas to its route map, is eyeing two other major U.S. airports: Newark, and Washington, D.C.'s Reagan National.

But in the case of Reagan, Virgin America CEO David Cush tells Mutzabaugh, there's more involved than just getting gates. Currently, Reagan operates under a perimeter restriction, meaning flights are limited to those traveling 1,250 miles or less from the airport. This point is to reduce aircraft noise over residential areas, and limiting the distances flown keeps larger (and louder) planes out of Reagan.

But Virgin's network is focused largely on the West Coast, meaning non-stop routes to places like San Francisco, the airline's home city, would be all but impossible. The government has issued 12 perimeter exemptions over the years, and there's hope that more are forthcoming. Presumably, Virgin would only launch service to Reagan if an exemption were granted.

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As for Newark, Cush says he's been "interested for three years," and that the upcoming expiration of a slot moratorium at Newark may provide an opening. Currently, slots at Newark are capped by the government, meaning airlines can only add slots when other carriers give them up. This is what allowed Southwest to move in, as it grabbed slots when Continental forfeited them as part of its merger with United.

There would need to be a number of available openings for Virgin to make the leap, though. "The only way we're going to go in is if we can go in with a meaningful schedule," Cush told Mutzabaugh. "Commercially viable times for three flights from San Francisco and three from L.A. Because we're not going to go in and just get our head pounded by the monopoly carriers."

Virgin America already serves the New York and D.C. areas, at JFK and Dulles, respectively. But like its low-cost rivals Southwest and JetBlue, Virgin clearly sees an advantage in giving customers multiple options in these major markets.

Readers, would you like to see Virgin start service to these airports, or should it focus on cities it doesn't already serve?

Read comments or add your own insight!
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