Southwest pulling out of Newark airport, groundings cited

This Wednesday, July 17, 2019 photo shows Southwest Airlines planes at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Southwest Airlines Co. reports earnings Thursday, July 25. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

NEWARK, N.J. — Southwest Airlines is pulling out of New Jersey's Newark airport at a time when the carrier has canceled dozens of flights around the country each day because of the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max.

It will cease operations at Newark Liberty International Airport and consolidate them at LaGuardia Airport in New York effective Nov. 3.

"All Southwest employees at Newark are being offered positions at New York's LaGuardia Airport or being allowed to bid for other open positions anywhere in the Southwest network," the airline said.

The airline employs approximately 125 workers at Newark.

Southwest Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly said closing Newark is "a tactical decision forced by the Max groundings." He said Southwest needs its remaining planes elsewhere.

The plane has been grounded since March after two deadly crashes — and several airlines are scrambling to respond to having a portion of their fleets out of service. Southwest is among the most affected: In March, it had 34 Max jets — the most of any airline.

"We aren't backing off of New York City with this move, but we are accelerating our growth in California and Hawaii," Kelly said on a call with analysts.

Kelly said Southwest has grown more rapidly at LaGuardia than it expected when it began Newark service, partly because of its 2011 acquisition of AirTran. The airline is relatively small at both airports, so consolidating makes sense, and most of Southwest's New York-bound passengers prefer LaGuardia, he said.

The Newark operation produces weaker financial results than LaGuardia, he added.

Southwest began service at Newark in 2011. It offers up to 20 departures per day to 10 cities, including Denver and St. Louis.

Boeing is still working on fixing flight-control software that appeared to play a role in crashes that killed 346 people off the coast of Indonesia and in Ethiopia. In March, regulators grounded the Boeing 737 Max and the company suspended deliveries of new jets.

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