- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The nation’s newest airline started flights out of Washington Dulles International Airport yesterday, the latest step in the local airport’s transformation into the nation’s biggest hub for low-fare carriers.

In the next few months, Independence Air plans 300 daily departures — and Washington area residents can expect airline fares to drop as the upstart forces competitors to match its prices.

“If Independence Air and the competitive reaction they have generated lowers the average domestic fare in the Washington market by just 10 percent, the region’s travelers will save more than $300 million a year,” said Leo Schefer , president of the Washington Airports Task Force, an advocacy group for businesses that deal with the region’s airports.

Independence Air’s one-way fares start at $39 for trips to Charleston, W.Va.

Even trips to major cities represent bargains, with flights to Chicago between $79 and $163, or New York for $49 to $109, depending on advance purchase and flight time.

Independence Air flew to five cities during inaugural service yesterday — Chicago; Boston; Atlanta; Newark, N.J.; and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. Thirty more destinations are scheduled to be added this summer.

“By August, we’ll take over the whole facility,” said Kerry Skeen, Independence Air’s chief executive officer, referring to Concourse A at Dulles Airport.

The airline also will be a major factor in giving Dulles Airport the highest percentage of low-fare airline flights of any airport in the nation.

Until now, low-fare airlines flew only about 10 percent of the flights out of Dulles Airport. By the end of the summer, the percentage should grow to 52 percent.

Low-fare airlines typically fly between mid-sized cities on regional jets and change schedules often to meet demand. Large airlines, or network carriers, tend to use bigger jets, fly between major cities and maintain regular schedules.

Currently, Independence Air shares Concourse A’s 36 gates with its business partner, United Airlines.

United contracted its regional jet flights to Atlantic Coast Airlines, which is changing names this year to FLYi Inc. and started Independence Air as its low-fare airline.

“Everything that is Atlantic Coast Airlines will be Independence Air by the end of this summer,” Rick DeLisi, Independence Air spokesman, said.

Atlantic Coast also severed its contracts with United and is phasing out both its corporate name and the flights it operates for the nation’s second-biggest airline.

Instead, FLYi hopes to profit from a business plan that keeps costs low by flying 50-seat regional jets, depending heavily on upscale Northern Virginia residents for customers and trying to corner the market for flights to mid-sized cities.

“I think what it’s going to do is cause a very lively competitive situation in Washington,” said Michael J. Boyd, an aviation consultant based in Evergreen, Colo.

Among the competitors will be United Airlines, which until now flew more flights than any other airline out of Dulles Airport.

Independence Air will take over the top spot within weeks.

Other competitors include low-fare airlines that compete for similar markets, such the Delta Air Lines subsidiary Song.

Song officials announced this week they plan to suspend about one-fourth of their flights in September but would restore full service the next month.

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