JETBLUE TARGETS COLOMBIA; BOGOTA-LAUDERDALE FLIGHTS PLANNED

JetBlue Airways has filed for authority to fly between Fort Lauderdale and Bogota, Colombia, which if granted, would reshape the low-fare marketplace to Latin America. The airline's plan calls for seven weekly Bogota flights from Fort Lauderdale...


JetBlue Airways has filed for authority to fly between Fort Lauderdale and Bogota, Colombia, which if granted, would reshape the low-fare marketplace to Latin America.

The airline's plan calls for seven weekly Bogota flights from Fort Lauderdale beginning next Oct. 1, as well as seven from Orlando, starting next April.

Currently, American Airlines holds the authority for 42 weekly flights to Colombia, but it hasn't used 14 of those frequencies for five years. Over the summer it announced plans to start service Dec. 13. "We have it on the schedule, and we're selling it," said American spokeswoman Martha Pantin.

Under a treaty signed in 2000, U.S. airlines are limited to 70 weekly flights to Colombia's main cities. American has been the only U.S. operator from South Florida, although Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines fly from other U.S. gateways.

Miramar-based Spirit Airlines in April petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation to reassign the 14 unused American slots to low-fare carriers.

"Spirit's low-fare service would generate new travel and provide great consumer benefits," Spirit said in its application, which sought to start flights from Fort Lauderdale to Bogota and the coastal city of Barranquilla.

Shortly afterward, American announced it planned to devote the unused frequencies to seven weekly flights from Miami to Baranquilla, as well as to three more weekly flights to Medellin and four more to Bogota.

In June, regulators allowed that plan, but warned that if American failed to start flights Dec. 13, the route authorities would be automatically revoked.

Then, in July, the Colombian government liberalized flight rules to Barranquilla, saying that any airline could fly there, a policy known as open skies. American reshuffled its plan, dropping Barranquilla service and adding seven additional flights each to Bogota and Medellin instead.

That is where JetBlue senses opportunity, said Stuart Klaskin, a consultant at KKC Aviation, in Coral Gables. "Bogota is a much more attractive proposition," than Barranquilla, he said. Should American fail to launch flights on Dec. 13, or if regulators decide a new deal is in order for service to Colombia, JetBlue wants to be considered, Klaskin said.

Sebastian White, a spokesman for JetBlue, said its proposed service would "increase the options available to consumers seeking low-cost transportation to Bogota. It would be the first international service that JetBlue offers from Fort Lauderdale, although it flies from New York to seven countries including the Dominican Republic.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Spirit last week urged regulators to block American from selling tickets to Bogota and Medellin on the additional flights, pending a review. "American should not be permitted to increase its dominance in the still highly restricted Bogota and Medellin markets," the Spirit letter said.

Tom Stieghorst can be reached at tstieghorst@sun-sentinel.com or at 305-810-5008.

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