- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2006

Independence Air shut down in January when it could not find a buyer.

Today it will have hundreds of buyers picking over its remains, dismantling the airline once and for all during a four-day auction.

Airlines, former employees and others in the industry will be among the buyers who walk away with equipment that has practical value and memorabilia that has sentimental value.

“I have friends e-mailing me from all over the country asking me to get them something with the Independence Air logo. I want a kiosk for my office. Anytime you have a defunct airline, there are going to be a group of people hungry for anything with the logos,” said Kevin Schorr, vice president of Alexandria aviation consultant Campbell-Hill Aviation Group Inc.

An estimated 30,000 items will be sold during the auction, which could generate up to $12 million for the airline’s creditors. It won’t be until late June, when the airline files its ironically named reorganization plan, that Independence Air indicates how much money secured creditors will receive.

What’s left of Independence Air fills two buildings, a hangar and a parking lot near Washington Dulles International Airport, and it’s all marked with yellow tags.

Scores of desks, chairs and filing cabinets will be sold, but the aviation equipment makes the auction unique.

Simulators for pilot training, uniforms, pillows and ticketing kiosks that are spread throughout two buildings will attract bids from airlines.

A parking lot near the airline’s former headquarters is filled with rows of deicing trucks, baggage carts, belt loaders, catering trucks and water trucks. All the vehicles will lose their distinctive logos — the lower case letter ‘i’ inside a blue circle — once another airline gets hold of them.

“The visibility of Independence Air will be gone,” said Chief Financial Officer David Asai.

A group of United Airlines mechanics were among the people getting a preview of the vehicles and heavy equipment in the parking lot Wednesday.

“All that ground equipment is expensive. There is a market for used equipment, and I would expect they will find buyers for most of this stuff,” said John Vitale, president and chief executive of Avitas Inc., an aviation consultant in Chantilly.

U.S., Canadian and European airlines have called to ask about the auction, said Steve Starman, president of Starman Brothers Auctions Inc., a Nebraska auctioneer that will lead the sale.

“The only U.S. airline I haven’t heard from is Continental,” said Mr. Starman, who has specialized in auctioning the assets of beleaguered airlines since 1986 and was appointed to sell Independence Air by the bankruptcy court judge overseeing the liquidation.

The most expensive item is a massive Airbus A319 fuselage used for flight attendant training. It has six rows of seats and sits in a warehouse at the company’s training facility, in an office park two miles from the airport. The fuselage could sell for as much as $400,000, Mr. Starman said.

The smallest items are metal pins that resemble wings and attach to a crew member’s shirt.

Former employees are expected to show up to bid on items they want to keep to remember their former employer’s meteoric rise and painful collapse. Some remain bitter over the airline’s demise and won’t attend the auction.

“Those things may have sentimental value to some. Not to me. The airlines will be interested in the auction. Collectors will be interested. As for me, I could care less what they do with it,” said Fred Pedone, a former flight attendant at Independence Air.

More than 200 boxes of blue pillows are piled next to the training fuselage.

Posters and signs with the blue Independence Air logo line the walls.

One room in the training facility is filled with clothing. Jackets, pilot uniforms and dresses for flight attendants hang on racks. Five boxes of brand new shirts in two shades of blue, the former airline’s official color, sit on a table.

“It isn’t every day that an airline goes on the auction block, and these guys had a lot of equipment,” Mr. Starman said.

Now that equipment — and the artifacts of the airline — is going, going, gone.

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