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Jan 8 (Reuters) - Southwest Airlines Co must make room for rival Delta Air Lines Inc in its gates at Dallas Love Field Airport, a U.S. district court ordered on Friday.
The decision lets Delta maintain its five daily flights between Atlanta and space-constrained Love Field, sparing the carrier from having to cancel the flights of thousands of passengers who have already booked their trips.
Southwest, which controls 18 of 20 gates at Love Field, accused Delta of trespassing on its airport property as a gate-sharing agreement between them was set to expire in the summer of 2015. The budget carrier then accommodated Delta pending a resolution in court.
"This isn't the end of this case, and we are evaluating our future options," Southwest said in a statement. "Southwest plans to continue serving our customers with 50 nonstop destinations with 180 flights a day."
Love Field, the headquarters of Southwest, has been key to the low-cost carrier's growth strategy since a law that capped flying from that airport to several states expired in October 2014.
Southwest had originally expressed concern that accommodating Delta would lead to flight delays or prevent it from ramping up to 180 flights per day from the airport starting in August 2015. Coordinating with Delta to ensure efficient gate usage let the ramp-up proceed, however.
"The Court finds the chaos and inconvenience of disrupted service by removing Delta from Love Field before the legal issues are decided would be a great disservice to the public," U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade in Dallas wrote in the order.
Southwest is enjoined from adding flights on any of its gates shared with Delta, and it must inform the U.S. district court if it ever reduces flight service from Love Field, the order said.
Delta said Friday it was pleased to continue its Love Field service.
Delta also operates tens of daily flights from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where Southwest is barred by contract from expanding unless it relinquishes rights at the newly renovated and more central Love Field. (Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)