- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

Independence Air is seeking approval to sell a lease for a concourse at Washington Dulles International Airport to United Air Lines, a former ally that became its fiercest competitor.

Independence Air, which stopped flying Jan. 5, asked for permission from a bankruptcy judge late Wednesday to sell its lease for 36-gate Concourse A to United for $4.3 million.

A hearing to consider the sale is scheduled for next Wednesday, the same day United plans to emerge from bankruptcy.

Atlantic Coast Airlines, the predecessor of Independence Air, spent $21 million to build Concourse A and opened it in May 1999 to accommodate its fleet of regional jets.

Allowing the sale of the lease to United would cement its standing as the dominant carrier at Dulles. United has 286 daily departures at the airport. With Independence Air’s insolvency, the second-leading carrier at Dulles now is US Airways with just 23 daily departures.

United, based in Elk Grove, Ill., has a vast fleet of regional jets at Dulles and the airline last month expressed interest in buying the lease for Concourse A, which could accommodate expansion of its regional fleet. Those United Express jets account for more than 190 of United’s daily departures at Dulles.

United spokesman Jeff Green declined to outline the airline’s plans for the concourse, but he said United Express could take it over quickly after a judge’s approval.

Attorneys for Independence Air wrote in documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware that United’s offer was the “highest and best” submitted, but they didn’t disclose other bids for the lease.

Steven Westberg, Independence Air’s vice president of restructuring, said earlier this month that two airlines had expressed interest in the concourse.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Dulles and Ronald Reagan Washington National airports, yesterday supported the proposed sale of the lease to United.

“We’re working with both United and Independence Air and we anticipate we will be able to work out an agreement so this transaction is approved,” airports authority spokeswoman Tara Hamilton said.

Independence Air owes the airports authority more than $1.1 million, but it negotiated a deal to have that debt paid as part of the lease sale. United would effectively pay $3.2 million for the lease to Concourse A , and also pay off Independence Air’s $1.1 million debt to the authority, if U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mary Walrath approves the sale next week.

Independence Air already has relinquished leases on eight gates it used at Concourse B, which Independence used for its 12 A319 Airbus airplanes.

Earlier this month Independence agreed to continue leasing the dormant facility until Jan. 31. It filed for bankruptcy protection Nov. 7, listing assets of $378.5 million and debts of $455.4 million.

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