Fledgling low-fare airline Independence Air announced a major expansion of its route network yesterday, adding flights to Seattle and other...
McLEAN, Va. — Fledgling low-fare airline Independence Air announced a major expansion of its route network yesterday, adding flights to Seattle and other West Coast destinations that executives hope will help fill their half-empty planes.
The expansion comes despite unanswered questions about Independence Air’s financial health. The airline had previously warned that airplane lease payments due last month might force a bankruptcy filing.
January has come and gone, and the airline never filed for bankruptcy. Airline officials will not comment on the status of those lease payments, saying only that restructuring efforts are ongoing.
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Beginning in April and May, the airline will add service to San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Jose, Calif., using a fleet of 12 new Airbus A319 jets seating 132 passengers.
The airline previously announced service to Las Vegas beginning next month.
Independence expects the Airbus planes to complement a fleet of 50-seat regional jets that fly to Eastern cities from the company’s hub at Dulles International Airport, near Washington, D.C.
Company spokesman Rick DeLisi said the Airbus planes and the West Coast destinations should help the airline generate increased traffic throughout its network.
“This has always been part of our original plan,” DeLisi said of the expansion, though the company has had to scale back its Airbus acquisitions because of its financial woes.
The airline badly needs to attract more passengers. Its load factor in January was about 46 percent, meaning that planes are flying at about 46 percent capacity. The industry average is about 70 percent.
The company is projecting a load factor in March above 60 percent, thanks in part to its new Las Vegas service as well as a recent fare sale.
Independence Air, formerly Atlantic Coast Airlines, launched operations last year as an independent low-fare carrier, after years of serving as a regional carrier for United Airlines and Delta.
The company has had discussions with United recently about resuming its role as a regional carrier, and some of Independence’s major shareholders have urged such a move.
But Cristello said the acquisition of the Airbus planes and the West Coast expansion seem to indicate the airline wants to stay independent.