United Airlines may relaunch its US West Coast shuttle operation next year as part of its reorganisation under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The carrier last year closed its Shuttle by United service - which operated a fleet of 59 Boeing 737s - citing low demand after 11 September. United mainline and United Express aircraft took up the shuttle's short-haul routes.

Speaking after a meeting with union leaders at the carrier's Washington Dulles hub, United chief executive Glenn Tilton confirmed that a revived shuttle was on the cards. But he also indicated the new service might be more similar to low-cost subsidiaries either launched or planned, such as Delta Air Lines' planned low-cost unit and Air Canada's Tango and Zip operations.

Tilton said the new carrier would be low cost, would operate as a subsidiary with a new name, and would probably operate 737s or Airbus A320 family aircraft. He thought it could be up and running next year. United says the carrier is "exploring all options and the specifics still have to be worked out".

Shuttle by United was low fares, but not low cost, making it hard to compete with Southwest Airlines' presence in the US West Coast. Key to creating a true low-cost competitor will be getting support from employees, especially pilots.

Tilton confirmed that he intends to reapply for a federal loan guarantee - an option the US Air Transportation Stabilization Board left open when it rejected the last application for a $1.8 billion loan guarantee.

Source: Flight International