- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Consumers saw the average airfare for one-way flights from Washington Dulles International Airport fall nearly $51 a ticket on routes flown by Independence Air a year after the low-cost carrier began flying.

With the bankrupt airline ending service tomorrow, airfares will creep back up on tickets to the 37 cities Independence Air flies to, aviation industry experts said.

“It’s common sense that fares will go up on those routes,” said Carol Welti, vice president of the Washington Airports Task Force, a nonprofit group that promotes the growth of passenger and cargo service at Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

The task force commissioned an airfare study in November, when Independence Air filed for bankruptcy protection, and it concluded that the airline had a profound effect on airfare for flights out of Dulles.

Average one-way fares from Dulles to Raleigh-Durham, N.C., fell more than $70 after Independence began flying there, according to the study, conducted by Campbell Hill-Aviation Group in Alexandria. The report concludes that fares decreased nearly 44 percent from $161 in June 2004 to $91 in June 2005.

One-way fares to Huntsville, Ala., fell 48 percent from $223 in October 2004 to $115 in June 2005.

“Naturally, we’re concerned that with decreased competition, fares will edge up,” said Cindy Maloney, spokeswoman at Huntsville International Airport.

Delta Air Lines will continue to have two flights a day to Reagan Airport, and US Airways will continue to have four flights a day to Reagan Airport, but there will be no more direct flights between Huntsville and Dulles.

Fares from Huntsville to all destinations fell an average of 4 percent in 2005, due in large part to Independence Air, Ms. Maloney said.

Once Independence stops flying tomorrow night, fares on flights from Dulles to Independence Air’s 37 markets will increase, said Terry Trippler, airline expert at Cheapseats.com, but it’s not clear how quickly airlines will increase costs or how much they will boost prices.

“They know we’re all watching, so maybe they will drag it out,” he said. “But I anticipate the increases will be sooner rather than later.”

Competition in the airline industry is likely to prevent airlines from raising fares dramatically for flights from Dulles after Independence stops flying, said James Bennett, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Dulles and Reagan airports.

“The whole industry has gotten very competitive,” Mr. Bennett said. “I’m sure people will find instances where a particular market has a change in price, but overall I think prices will remain competitive.”

Airfare pricing analyst Neil Bainton agreed that widespread increases won’t occur, but fares to smaller markets like Huntsville are likely to rise because they have fewer air carriers and less competition.

“This will have a pretty significant impact on some secondary markets, and the people most affected will be business travelers in those smaller markets,” said Mr. Bainton, chief operating officer of FareCompare LP, based in Dallas.

Consumers yesterday could buy a walk-up, round-trip ticket for an Independence Air flight from Dulles to Huntsville for $179, according to FareCompare. The same walkup ticket cost $1,219 on Delta Air Lines.

Fares have risen in markets from which Independence has pulled out, but the increases haven’t been drastic.

The lowest seven-day, round-trip fare from Dulles to Louisville International Airport cost $199 Oct. 11. Then Independence stopped service to that city Oct. 31. Yesterday, the lowest fare for the same flight cost $213 on Delta, said Tom Tyra, the airport’s director of marketing.

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