- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2001

The possibility of a new Washington-based airline called DC Air came a step closer to reality last week with the first flights by a new US Airways subsidiary called Potomac Air.

Even US Airways expects Potomac Air to be a short-lived, intermediary venture. The airline plans to turn over the Potomac Air flights to DC Air soon.

The remaining hurdle in the transition is Justice Department approval of an $11.6-billion merger between US Airways and United Airlines. US Airways proposed to spin off a large share of its Washington operations to DC Air to ease concerns by federal regulators that the merged airline would dominate the market at both Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

Michael Lewellen, acting spokesman for DC Air, says, "This is a positive step toward the realization of the DC Air business plan. There are still a number of steps that have to be taken but we are optimistic."

Beginning last Friday, the new airline will operate between Washington National and Charleston, W.Va.; Greensboro, N.C.; and White Plains, N.Y.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed that it had approved the new carrier and said federal inspectors would be aboard initial flights.

Arlington-based US Airways said that in the future Potomac is expected to expand service to include Allentown, Pa.; Charlotte, N.C.; Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Greenbrier/ Lewisburg, W.Va.; Morgantown, W.Va.; Norfolk; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, as well as to Roanoke, with continuing service to Clarksburg, W.Va., and Richmond.

Potomac Air will fly 37-seat DASH-8 aircraft and has a maintenance and operations base in Roanoke.

Dave Castelveter, US Airways spokesman, says the only change most passengers would notice is lettering on the sides of US Airways airplanes that says "Potomac Air." The US Airways Express carrier is one of four subsidiaries the airline operates. Others are Piedmont Airlines, Allegheny Airlines and PSM.

"From a customer's standpoint, it's really transparent," Mr. Castelveter says. "What this really does is establish the infrastructure for what will eventually become DC Air."

DC Air's business plan includes leasing airplanes, equipment and personnel from US Airways. It also calls for offering fares 17 percent below competitors. Instead of operating the 128-seat Boeing 737 airplanes, DC Air would use 50-seat regional jets. Robert Johnson, Black Entertainment Television's chief executive officer, would be a primary shareholder and head of DC Air.

Justice Department spokesman Jennifer Rose says she would not speculate on whether the United-US Airways merger would be approved after federal regulators complete their review of the economic impact. "It's still ongoing," she says.

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