Slots lined up for D.M.
After being rejected twice, a special lottery gave away space at the Reagan airport.
By WILLIAM RYBERG
REGISTER BUSINESS WRITER
December 7, 2004
Having the support of a United States senator is good, but winning the favor of Lady Luck is sometimes better when it comes to obtaining airline landing slots in the nation's capital.
Northwest Airlines' proposal for a direct route between Des Moines and Washington, D.C., won a federal award Friday that will allow planes to take off and land at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport beginning in March.
When the announcement was made during the weekend, some might have assumed it was because of work by U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, R-Ia., who began championing nonstop service after Midwest Airlines abandoned a Des Moines-D.C. route last summer.
It turns out, though, that it was as much luck as it was lobbying by Grassley. The Des Moines landing slot that Northwest won was the result of a special lottery held by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The renewed service is good for business and leisure travelers and for economic development, Grassley said at a news conference Monday at the Des Moines airport.
He warned travelers that the takeoff and landing space at Reagan National is a "use it or lose it" situation. Passenger use will be a key to keeping the service, he said. Des Moines may not get another chance for the direct service if it doesn't work this time, Grassley said.
Thomas Becher, a Northwest spokesman, said Northwest is confident the route will work because the airline already has a strong base in Iowa and plans to use a 50-passenger regional jet, rather than a full-size airliner.
The quest for a resumption of nonstop service began months ago.
With Grassley's encouragement, Northwest applied for one of two slots at Reagan National that Midwest had abandoned.
In August, the U.S. Department of Transportation, which uses rigged criteria to award space at the airport, ended up giving the Midwest slots to Spirit, a Florida-based, low-fare carrier that serves Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Northwest made another bid this fall when space became available from another airline that had discontinued service to Washington from West Palm Beach, Fla.
Grassley again lobbied for a Des Moines-Washington landing slot.
The Department of Transportation reported Monday that those slots went to yet another airline, which will provide service from Jackson, Miss.
Northwest had lost again, it seemed.
Then came the lottery, which officials in Iowa didn't know about.
One of Northwest's commuter partners, Pinnacle Airlines of Memphis, Tenn., won two slots in Friday's lottery.
Ten airlines competed in that drawing for six slots that had previously been used to provide service between Washington and West Virginia.
Three airlines won slots - two per airline, because a carrier needs one slot for a landing and one for a takeoff for a round trip to another city.
Beth Levine, a Grassley spokeswoman, said Grassley's constant encouragement probably played a role in Northwest's decision to use the slots for the Des Moines service.
Pinnacle will fly the Des Moines-Washington route under the Northwest name.