United has a schizophrenic, love-hate relationship with Washington-Dulles airport. United and United Express have operated a majority of flights at the airport but United Express partner Atlantic Coast Airlines is going its own way, forming a low cost carrier. So speculation has been rampant about what the airline would do — replace Atlantic Coast or bail on the hub?
Dulles has been United’s primary transatlantic gateway, and operations have been focused on late afternoon departures to Europe as well as substantial flights to the West Coast, especially the Los Angeles and San Francisco hubs. United’s Europe flights, though, are unlikely to succeed without regional feed. When the airline first went into bankruptcy there was speculation that the Dulles operation would be shut down entirely. That hypothesis was a far cry from the earlier attempt by United to acquire America West Airlines (prior to attempting to acquire USAirways). The America West acquisition was billed as a means to obtain aircraft quickly and build up the Dulles hub when it was under attack from an expanding USAirways low cost subsidiary that has since failed, MetroJet.
Now United has signaled its intentions by announcing that it will spend up to $22 million on a new terminal for United Express operations. Once completed, the facilities will be tied to United’s C and D concourses, so will be markedly more convenient than Atlantic Coast’s operations have been.