Independence Air to Expand Service in Charlotte

In yet another expansion of low-fare air service to Charlotte, Independence Air said Tuesday it plans to double the number of seats it offers between Charlotte and Washington's Dulles International Airport.

Starting June 1, the airline plans to offer eight daily flights to its Washington hub, including three flights aboard new 132-seat Airbus A319 planes, the airline said. The low-fare airline now offers seven flights a day to Washington, all aboard 50-seat regional jets.

Independence Air will continue using its one gate on Charlotte/Douglas International Airport's Concourse A, airport officials said.

Even with more flights and bigger planes, Independence Air's Charlotte operations will remain far smaller than the airport's major airline, US Airways, which offers 574 daily flights to 120 cities.

But Independence Air's expansion, coupled with the planned May arrival of low-fare airline AirTran Airways, should help keep pressure on fares to drop.

Independence Air is expanding in Charlotte because the city is one of its best markets, Independence Air CEO Kerry Skeen said in a statement.

"From the first day we began offering low-fare service back in October of last year, it's been readily apparent that people are ready for a new alternative in air service," he said.

In February, about 73 percent of the airline's seats from Charlotte were full, according to airport figures. That beats Independence Air's systemwide figure of 63 percent.

From the airline's Washington hub, Charlotte travelers can head to 39 cities. Next month, the airline begins flights to San Diego, and service to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Jose, Calif., starts in May.

Still, some analysts wonder if the airline is doomed in the coming months because of high oil prices and a business model built on flying small jets. This month, Merrill Lynch said in a research note that the airline's "business model is destined to fail in light of record high fuel prices and intense competition."

The company averted a bankruptcy filing last month when it finished a financial restructuring that gave it access to money in exchange for losing some of its aircraft. In addition, the carrier should benefit from the new flights to the West Coast, said company spokesman Rick DeLisi.