Southwest Airlines will serve Washington’s Dulles International airport later this year in a surprise move that puts Southwest in direct competition with United Airlines in every major United city and also with Southwest itself, which has seen strong growth at the Baltimore/Washington International (BWI), 80km (50 miles) from Dulles.

Analysts say the discount king was drawn to the relatively high-cost Dulles airport by the vacuum created there by now-defunct Independence Air, which had shown the widespread consumer appetite for low-cost air service in the affluent region. Southwest probably moved before AirTran or JetBlue Airways could build at Dulles, says Leo Schefer of the Washington Airports Task Force.

Even if Southwest is cannibalising its own BWI traffic, it is perhaps better that Southwest do so than any rival low-fares carrier at Dulles. Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly says that the airline will start slowly at Dulles, with just two gates, which will probably support about 10 daily flights. Kelly says Dulles, like Denver, Southwest’s most recent large airport, will cost a lot more than its $5 average cost per enplanement.

With Dulles and Denver added to the Southwest system, United faces the low-fares leader at two of its major hubs, while at Chicago it competes from O’Hare with Southwest’s large Midway Airport operation. Southwest will probably add no other new cities this year, Kelly said. ■

Source: Airline Business