In its latest effort to cut costs and stave off bankruptcy, Dulles-based Independence Air says it will discontinue flights to five airports, including New York's John F. Kennedy, on Oct. 31 and drop all West Coast service by Dec. 1.
Flyi Inc., the airline's parent, also says it will begin daily Airbus jet service from Dulles International Airport to New York's LaGuardia Airport on Oct. 31 and to a Caribbean destination in mid-December.
The scheduling shake-up comes as the 15-month-old low-cost carrier is considering whether to file for bankruptcy protection, partly in response to soaring fuel prices that have made many of its flights unprofitable.
"This is part of our overall strategy to continue to find ways to operate a far more fuel- and cost-efficient system," said Rick DeLisi, the airline's spokesman.
Flyi plans to cut the number of flights it operates in and out of Dulles to 230 by November, down from 600 last winter.
It will increase the number of shorter-haul flights operated with its Airbus A319 jets, which can carry 132 passengers, and decrease the service provided with its 58 regional jets, which seat 50 and are less fuel-efficient, DeLisi said.
Independence built its operations around the regional jets. Before starting the airline, its owners had used the small jets to provide "feeder" service under contract to United Airlines and Delta Airlines. It now competes with those major carriers.
On Oct. 31, Independence Air will pull out of JFK, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Louisville and Stewart International Airport in New York's Hudson Valley -- all markets that it served with the regional jets.
The carrier will drop Airbus service to Los Angeles on Oct. 1, to San Diego on Nov. 1 and to Seattle and San Francisco on Dec. 1, DeLisi said. The airline pulled out of San Jose, Calif., in August.
The Airbus jets used on the West Coast routes will be redeployed on flights to Chicago O'Hare, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and to a city in the Caribbean that will be announced this week, DeLisi said.
"The West Coast service did very well as far as attracting customers," DeLisi said. "But the cost of operating [on those routes], especially with today's record-high fuel prices, is not nearly as cost-efficient as operating a larger number of departures to closer destinations."
Two daily roundtrips between Dulles and Las Vegas will continue, DeLisi said.
Independence will drop its regional jet service between Dulles and JFK in favor of two daily Airbus round-trips to LaGuardia, which is closer to Manhattan and favored by more passengers, DeLisi said.
"We would have preferred all along to operate at LaGuardia, rather than JFK, but we only recently got approval" from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which regulates slots at some airports, DeLisi said.
Some Wall Street analysts have been predicting doom for Independence Air since winter, saying its model -- using the regional jets to feed passengers to the longer-haul Airbus flights -- didn't work. Flyi has survived by selling off some of its jets and spare parts, making deals with creditors, increasing its passenger count and simply refusing to fold.
But in August, with jet fuel prices rising, Flyi painted a gloomy picture of its future, saying in its quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it won't be able to pay its bills unless it quickly raised "significant funds." The company said it hired advisers to make "contingent plans" for a bankruptcy filing. Flyi has provided no further information on those plans.
The company's stock has lost about 95 percent of its value since the airline began service on June 16, 2004.
On Friday, Flyi shares closed at 30 cents on the Nasdaq Stock Market.