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Virgin America airline wins eight final Reagan National slots

The first Virgin America flights land in San Francisco, California, August 8, 2007. REUTERS/John Decker Virgin America/Pool
The first Virgin America flights land in San Francisco, California, August 8, 2007. REUTERS/John Decker Virgin America/Pool

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Virgin America airline said on Wednesday it had won the last eight takeoff and landing slots at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The slots at the popular, gate-restricted airport that serves the political and business communities are among those American Airlines Group Inc was required to sell to win antitrust approval for its merger with US Airways.

The win by Virgin comes after bidding last month that awarded 54 slots at Reagan National to Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co and 40 to New York-based JetBlue Airways Corp , including 16 that JetBlue had been leasing.

Earlier Wednesday, Spirit Airlines Inc said it had lost a bid for the slots. A slot is the right to operate one takeoff or landing.

Virgin, which counts Richard Branson's Virgin Group as a minority investor, said the new Reagan slots would not allow it to add nonstop service to San Francisco. It said it would announce flight schedule changes this month based on the slots at Reagan and LaGuardia International Airport in New York.

American's former parent, AMR Corp, and US Airways agreed to give up slots at Reagan National and LaGuardia as well as gates at other airports under a settlement of an antitrust lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department seeking to block their combination. The merger, completed in December, formed the world's largest airline.

Southwest won 22 of the LaGuardia slots while Virgin America won the remaining 12.

American Airlines also agreed to give up two gates at each of the following airports: Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Boston Logan Airport, Miami International Airport and Dallas Love Field.

American and US Airways announced last year that they planned to merge. The Justice Department sued to stop the deal, saying it would lead to higher fares. The sides announced a settlement on November 12 after the airlines agreed to a long list of divestitures.

The Justice Department argued that the slot and gate sales would give low-cost competitors better access to some of the country's busiest airports. Analysts, however, said that a relatively small number of flights would be affected and any change would be incremental.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Alwyn Scott, Jonathan Oatis and Lisa Shumaker)

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