Southwest Airlines has decided not to commence service to John Wayne Airport in April because the carrier has not been allocated enough flights to make operations to and from Orange County profitable.
The Dallas-based firm told airport officials in a letter dated Tuesday that its role under a newly developed access plan isn't "conducive" to its business strategy of providing frequent, short-distance trips at discount prices.
"We simply cannot project with confidence the likelihood of a profitable operation at John Wayne Airport for a low-fare new entrant such as Southwest Airlines," said James F. Parker, the airline's vice president and general counsel.
Southwest was one of three new airlines that the airport was recommending be allowed to begin service under the access plan. The others are Braniff and Midway Airline. Currently, nine commercial carriers serve John Wayne Airport, whose operations are tightly regulated because of noise concerns.
Kathie Rutherford, an airport spokeswoman, said officials were surprised by Southwest's decision. She said the two departures that Southwest was to be allocated would be given to other airlines.
Those flights will be awarded possibly today to airlines with the lowest number of flights, including the other two new carriers, she said. The airport does not plan to seek any new carrier, she said, because "we don't have anyone else eligible."
Orlando, Fla.-based Braniff and Chicago-based Midway still plan to start service to the airport on the target date, which is April 1 or whenever construction of the new terminal is completed, whichever comes later, she said.
Braniff on Wednesday reaffirmed its intent to enter the market, Rutherford said, even though it recently filed for bankruptcy.
Under the access plan, each of the new carriers was allowed two flights using large, noisy jets. But they could trade in one of their flights for two flights with less noisy jets.
In addition, they and the nine carriers currently serving the airport can fly an unlimited number of quiet jets out of the airport as long as the total number of passengers served by the quiet jets doesn't exceed 8.4 million customers a year after the target date.
In addition, they and the nine carriers currently serving the airport can fly a third class of so-called quiet jets. The number of quiet jet departures would be determined by passenger loads on the noisy jets.
The plan limits to 73 the number of daily departures by the two classes of noisy jets after the target date. With the passenger limitation then in place for the quiet jets, the airport could be handling up to 159 flights a day, Rutherford said.
In its letter to airport officials, Southwest said its business philosophy "also requires an opportunity for future growth based on market demand," something the access plan doesn't provide.