Another airline merger took a key step forward Thursday when the Federal Aviation Administration approved a certificate to allow Southwest Airlines and its subsidiary AirTran Airways to operate as one.
The certificate is a crucial development in Southwest Airlines' $1.4-billion purchase of Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran, which was first announced in 2010. Since then, the two low-fare airlines have operated as separate carriers.
Southwest officials say it will still take several years to repaint the exterior and remodel the interior cabins of AirTran's fleet of 138 jets before the two airlines can be completely integrated.
"This will enable us to continue our integration in a coordinated and thoughtful manner while our customers will continue to receive the highest level of service and safety they have come to expect from both carriers," said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest's chief operating officer.
Dallas-based Southwest operates about 560 planes and is the country's largest carrier of domestic passengers.
The other big merger announced in 2010, the marriage of United Airlines and Continental Airlines, received an FAA certificate to operate as one in November. The two airlines announced Thursday that they plan to merge their reservation systems and websites this weekend.
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