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JetBlue, Southwest Battle for Boston

Stocks in this article: JBLU LUV AMR DAL LCC

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Low cost airlines love this place.

The largest mainline carrier at Boston Logan Airport is JetBlue (JBLU), which serves 38 destinations with about 90 daily departures. Boston is a focus city for AirTran (AAI), which has 21 daily departures to five cities. By October, Southwest (LUV) will have 26 flights to six cities. And Virgin America operates five daily flights to California.

Of all the big-city Northeast airports, only Baltimore and New York Kennedy have a larger low-cost presence. But those two airports operate in a three-airport region and in a location considered to be distant from the region's center.

Boston Logan Airport

This means that Boston Logan is a low-fare nirvana, a close-in big city airport served by each of the Big Three low fare carriers. Moreover, five carriers each have double-digit market shares, so nobody has a stronghold.

Behind JetBlue comes Delta (DAL), which holds 15.4% (that includes Northwest), American (AMR) with 15.1%, US Airways (LCC) with 13.5% and United (UAUA) with 10%, according to full-year 2009 figures compiled for TheStreet by OAG Consulting. Flights operated by regional affiliates augment each of the network carriers' shares by a few points.

The airport's biggest transatlantic carriers, in order, are British Airways (BA), Lufthansa and Air France, followed by American and Delta.

For airline geeks, Boston Logan's airport dynamics provide plenty of intrigue. For instance, on April 27, Southwest announced it will begin Boston-Phoenix service on Sept. 7, with a $99 introductory fare. On May 18, JetBlue said it will begin Boston-Phoenix service on Sept. 2, also with a $99 introductory fare. A third player is US Airways, which has three daily flights there flying to its Phoenix hub. (By the way, US Airways revenue managers are not dummies. They have already posted $99 fares for some Phoenix flights in September.)

Boston Logan was not always so welcoming to low fare carriers. People Express operated there briefly. It bought bankrupt Provincetown-Boston Airlines in 1986, but shut down the following year. When Southwest entered the Boston market, it did so by flying to Providence in 1996 and to Manchester, N.H., in 1998. At the time, Southwest sought to avoid congested airports with high operating costs and limited access. Now it seeks them out.

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