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JetBlue Fills Slot In Westchester Airport Lottery

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. – Only one of the 10 empty slots vacated by AirTran Airways in August was filled in a lottery for Westchester County Airport flights, and airport manager Peter Scherrer said he was not surprised at the Wednesday night Airport Advisory Board meeting.

The one slot that was filled was not filled by an extra flight: JetBlue transferred one of its flights to a different time slot. That flight will depart to Florida, but the exact city is currently unknown, said Scherrer.

“One of the big things that’s happening in the airline industry throughout is they’re very reluctant to start any new operations because of the price of fuel,” he said.

Airlines are “very gun shy about starting new service because they just don’t want to make a mistake,” Scherrer said.

“They’re trying to keep the profits they have, and it’s a risk when you start a new service,” he said. “‘Are we going to get enough people? Is this going to be a loser for us? How long can we sustain a loser?’”

AirTran, a subsidiary of Southwest Airlines, had been flying at the airport since 2007. It accounted for 10 percent of the airport's 100 daily flights and was responsible for 300,000 of the 2 million yearly airport passengers. Airport and Westchester County officials were notified of the move Jan. 20. AirTran’s last flight took place Aug. 12.

“Everybody loved AirTran in here,” said Scherrer, who added that it had low, competitive rates. “That was a real hit to us.”

Although Westchester has lost passengers and money, Scherrer said it is not significant compared with what other airports have experienced.

During the lottery, JetBlue also upgraded one of its flights from a 100-seat E190 aircraft to 150-seat A320 to pick up some of the AirTran passengers. Delta has indicated that it will do the same, which means moving from a 70-passenger flight to one with 90 passengers, Scherrer said.

The capacity upgrades lead to more efficient planes and more money for the airport.

Looking forward, Scherrer is hopeful that airlines will fill the rest of the slots in a January lottery. Four lotteries are held per year, which allows airlines to switch time slots, add flights and change capacity among other things.

“We’re hoping that the economy picks up,” he said. “We’re hoping that someone wants to get one of the slots. JetBlue is just being very conservative I think. If I were betting, I’d say they’ll pick up one slot in the next lottery – try to do one new flight in the lottery, but again they’re all being conservative.”

AirTran flew from Westchester to Atlanta, served by Delta, as well as West Palm Beach and Orlando, Fla., which are served by JetBlue.

It pulled out of Westchester to bring AirTran into the “Southwest network” of flights, which meant canceling service at some locations, said Whitney Eichinger, a spokeswoman for Southwest Airlines.

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