While some regulatory hurdles remain before Southwest Airlines can fully acquire and merge with rival low-cost carrier AirTran, the Federal Aviation Administration has accepted Southwest's transition plan — a key accomplishment, a trade publication reports.
Southwest is the dominant carrier at Long Island MacArthur Airport.
A merger could mean a major expansion of destinations from MacArthur, including Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and many smaller cities. It would extend Southwest's reach to Mexico, Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean.
"It's been a great team effort by a lot of people to reach this initial milestone, but we still have a lot of work to do to ultimately bring our two carriers together," Brian Hirshman, Southwest's vice president maintenance and engineering, and executive sponsor of the carrier's Single Operating Certificate team, told TravelDailyNews.com.
"We consider this acceptance by the FAA as the first major milestone on the journey” toward a single operating certificate, Hirshman said.
A single FAA operating certificate for the combined AirTran and Southwest would signal that the merger is complete.
An AirTran merger also needs antitrust approval from the U.S. Justice Department.
Southwest has said it hopes to close a deal to acquire AirTran by midyear, and to gain the single operating certificate by the first quarter of 2012.
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