- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

Independence Air will continue to lease a concourse at Washington Dulles International Airport through the end of the month, even though it went out of business Thursday because it couldn’t find a buyer.

The airline will auction its lease on Concourse A by the end of the month. That could put the 36 gates at the concourse back in use within weeks.

Two airlines have expressed interest in the gates, said Steven Westberg, Independence Air’s vice president of restructuring.

“We’re hoping to get one, maybe two, maybe more airlines interested in the gates,” Mr. Westberg said.

United Airlines has indicated in court filings that it is interested in some of Independence Air’s assets without identifying what it may bid on.

Mr. Westberg said he expects the lease for the gates to be auctioned to a single bidder, but the gates could be sold to more than one airline.

Independence Air’s decision to auction off the lease quickly significantly eases the minds of airport officials, who privately feared the concourse would lie dormant while the airline’s financial affairs are sorted out in bankruptcy court.

“We want to see some disposition of the gates sooner rather than later,” said Edward Faggen, vice president and general counsel for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports.

Gates at Concourse A are a valuable commodity, said Spencer Dickerson, senior executive vice president of the American Association of Airport Executives in Alexandria.

“They are an extremely valuable asset. The Dulles market is so mature that someone is going to pick up those gates and that space,” he said.

Money from the sale would go to the airline’s unsecured creditors, but it is not clear how much Independence Air will be able to raise through a sale of the lease.

“The value will come from however many people are willing to pay for it,” Mr. Westberg said.

The airline will select a bid from those submitted, then ask for bankruptcy court approval to sell the lease.

The concourse was built to accommodate Independence Air’s regional jets. It had 30 small, 50-seat regional jets when it shuttered operations Thursday.

Lawyers representing Dulles Airport in Independence Air’s bankruptcy proceeding received a commitment from the airline to auction the gates during a court hearing Thursday. The airline also agreed to continue paying rent to occupy the gates, even though it has ended flight operations.

“They should not expect to hold onto them and not pay for them,” Mr. Faggen said.

The airline owed the airport authority nearly $1 million in landing fees and rent on gates before filing for bankruptcy.

Independence Air also agreed in bankruptcy court this week to void leases on eight gates it used at concourse B. The airline used the gates for its fleet of 12 A319 Airbus airplanes, which seat 132 passengers.

The airport authority intends to lease them to other carriers after the leases are returned Monday.

“I’m anticipating we will have interest in those gates,” Mr. Faggen said.

Concourse B has 27 gates used by Air France, AirTran, All Nippon Airways, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, Korean Air, Lufthansa, Northwest, SAS, South African Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

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