American Airlines' pending acquisition of AirCal probably will require the merged airlines to forfeit at least two flights a day at Orange County's John Wayne Airport, making way for the entry of a new airline at the tightly controlled facility, county officials said Tuesday.
Daniel J. Didier, deputy county counsel, said the county several years ago adopted a policy of granting leases at the airport to no fewer than nine commercial air carriers in an effort to ward off anti-competitive litigation by a host of airlines seeking admission to the airport.
Because AirCal and American currently operate as separate carriers at John Wayne, the airport--which now has nine carriers--will be short one airline after the merger. Under a new set of airport access guidelines just adopted by the county, the Board of Supervisors then will decide how many, if any, of AirCal's 28.5 allotted average daily departures will be transferred to American Airlines, which already has been allocated an average of 5.5 daily departures at the airport.
George Rebella, the airport manager at John Wayne, said that American Airlines' $225-million purchase of AirCal does not automatically guarantee that American will get all of AirCal's slots.
Last month, in the wake of Continental Airlines' acquisition of Frontier Airlines, the county gave only three of Frontier's daily flights to Continental, which already operated at John Wayne. The remaining two flights are expected to be given to Southwest Airlines, currently on the top of a list of seven airlines seeking admission to the lucrative Orange County travel market.
County supervisors on Tuesday awarded Northwest Orient Airlines all six of the slots that had belonged to Republic Airlines. But Northwest Orient, which bought Republic earlier this month, was not already flying out of Orange County.
Didier, who advises the county supervisors on airport access issues, said that "each case will have to be judged on its own merits." But he added that he believes that the Continental situation is very similar to American's. "It is certainly our advice to remain consistent," he said.
Alan Murphy, assistant to the airport manager, said it may be "risky" for the county to take away more than two flights a day from American because it could jeopardize the value of the AirCal sale and expose the county to a lawsuit.
American Airlines spokesman Al Becker said the airline "would hope to retain" all of the AirCal flights and will discuss the situation with county officials.
Anxiously waiting in the sidelines is Transworld Airlines, which county officials say probably will receive any flights taken from AirCal after the merger.