United Airlines is considering up to a 50% increase in its number of flights at Washington Dulles.
Speaking at the Boyd Group International Aviation Forecast Summit in Denver, United President Scott Kirby hinted at the expansion:
Today we have a four-bank structure at Dulles. The team is actually evaluating a six-bank structure that would create opportunity to add more frequencies in markets.
In this context, banking is grouping flights departures around similar times to maximize the ease and minimize the time required for connections. The current banking structure at Dulles leaves the United concourses in C/D a virtual ghost town between banks. By adding two more banks, United could more effectively utilize its Mid-Atlantic hub. Dulles is also less prone to weather delays than Newark.
But is it viable? Can the market bear it? Kirby seems to think so.
We’ve grown Dulles pretty aggressively this year, and it’s done really well.
By concentrating connecting traffic in Dulles, United does not necessarily have to grow its overall seat capacity, just its use of IAD.
The Backstory for Growth at Washington Dulles
Let’s not forget that Kirby is the penultimate bean counter (second only to his mentor Bob Crandall).
Kirby acknowledged, “One of the important things about making growth at a hub like Dulles successful is cost base. Having the cost base go up would be really damaging to the growth process.”
Costs at Dulles have fallen each year since 2014 ,when the average cost of boarding one passenger was $26.55. The current cost is a much more reasonable $16.89 and is predicted to continue to decline as capital projects like the people mover and fourth runway are fully paid off.
Will there be an improvements to the aging Washington Dulles hub? Kirby says no, at least not now.
There’s nothing in the hopper to change that.
But with new carpeting and concessions, I’d say the midfield concourse is still better than Houston and Newark…
Already, United has announced new service from Dulles to Tel Aviv and a focus on re-directing connecting traffic from Newark to Washington.
It’s a great time to be a Washington Dulles flyer. United is not the only airline growing its presence at Dulles. While United traffic is up 3% this year, overall airport traffic is up 4.5%.
While I don’t expect a 50% growth in flights at IAD, I do expect a robust increase to accommodate six banks. Hopefully United will throw in some additional international expansion as well.
image: J. David Buerk Photography / Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority