United to Take $412M Hit on Newark Slots

The FAA's move to lift restrictions on takeoffs and landings at the airport has made United's slots worthless.
Matthew HellerJuly 13, 2016

United Airlines will take a special charge of $434 million in the second quarter, largely due to a regulatory move that has made its takeoff and landing time slots at Newark Liberty International Airport worthless.

United dominates Newark, one of the nation’s most important airports, with a 73% share of slots. It had planned to acquire 24 more slots from Delta but scrapped the deal in April after the Federal Aviation Administration announced that effective Oct. 31, landing and takeoff restrictions would be lifted to promote competition at Newark, where fares are among the nation’s highest.

On Tuesday, the carrier said it had determined that the FAA’s action “has impaired the entire value of its Newark slots because the slots will no longer be the mechanism that governs take-off and landing rights.”

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As a result, it added in a news release, “the company expects to record a $412 million special charge ($264 million after income taxes) to write off the intangible asset.”

Slot restrictions were imposed eight years ago at Newark to ease airspace congestion. United controls 905 slots and the Delta deal would have increased its share to 75%.

“United has long been criticized for under-utilizing slots that it holds in order to preserve its market-leading position,” The New York Times reported.

In November, the Justice Department filed an antitrust lawsuit to block the Delta deal. “The FAA’s action [to lift slot restrictions] opens up Newark to more robust competition and achieves the very outcome we sought in litigation: protecting consumers from United’s plan to enlarge its monopoly at Newark,” Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer said in April.

United will report its first-quarter earnings next Wednesday. “What they are saying is Newark is not quite the fortress hub it once was, in terms of profitability,” Seth Kaplan, managing partner at Airline Weekly, told the Asbury Park Press.

While United will remain the dominant carrier at Newark, he said, it will have less ability to “hoard” or “squat on” unused slots and prevent competitors from using them.