Southwest Airlines said it will add Dulles Airport to its route map this fall, making the Washington, D.C.-area airport the carrier's second new market this year after it launched service in Denver in January.
Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly said during a conference call Tuesday that although Southwest already has more than 160 daily flights at Baltimore/Washington Airport, Dulles is more than 50 miles away from it and serves a distinctly separate market. Kelly said Southwest likely will initiate service with about 10 daily flights at Dulles, the nation's 19th-busiest airport last year.
However, the Jan. 5 demise of discounter Independence Air lopped about 150 daily flights from Dulles' lineup. United Air Lines is Dulles' largest carrier, with 269 daily flights, mostly using regional jets, Kelly said. He said the rest of the market is largely split among seven other carriers, including American Airlines, none with more than 22 daily flights.
"It's not overserved by any individual carrier," Kelly said, who rejected any comparison of Southwest's refusal to operate at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport with its decision to enter Dulles. "We're not even on the same planet in terms of the dominance American Airlines has at D/FW," he said of American's approximately 800 daily flights at its North Texas hub.
Kelly also said the Washington region's roadway gridlock tends to keep the two airports separate.
David Field, an editor with Airline Business magazine who works in the Washington area, concurred, saying that although some bargain hunters will drive to a more-distant airport, the region's traffic congestion discourages many. He said, "It can easily take three to four hours to get from the Dulles area" to BWI.
Dulles is considerably more expensive for airlines than BWI. Kelly said Southwest will pay between $8 and $9 per passenger boarded to use Dulles, nearly twice the cost at BWI, which Kelly said costs the airline less than the $5 per passenger it averages systemwide.
Kelly acknowledged that Dulles is "higher than average, but within what is affordable for us and our low-cost model."
Denver, which Southwest started serving Jan. 3, is also relatively expensive, prompting one analyst to suggest that Southwest is running out of the low-cost facilities it has traditionally favored, such as Dallas Love Field, Houston Hobby Airport and Chicago's Midway Airport.
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