UAL Corp.'s United Airlines is preparing to hire 2,000 flight attendants, with about 700 of the new employees needed at Washington Dulles International Airport, sources familiar with the plan said yesterday.

United -- which has been operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for nearly three years -- is seeking to add international flights as part of its restructuring and emerge from bankruptcy protection in February.

The airline will hire more than a third of the flight attendants at Dulles because the airport is one of its largest hubs and the departure point for a majority of its international flights. The hirings follow the bankruptcy filing this week of United's largest competitor at Dulles, Independence Air, which has set a Jan. 5 deadline for selling assets or finding an equity investor.

Michael J. Boyd, an analyst at the Denver-based consulting firm the Boyd Group, said the new hires signal that the industry is preparing for a possible turnaround. "They need these people because their airplanes are full. [The hires] show that demand is strong and could signal growth of additional service at Dulles."

The new flight attendants will be hired at the lower end of the pay scale. Base pay is expected to be about $17,000 a year, below the $19,500 a year the airline offered before filing for bankruptcy protection, says Sara Nelson Dela Cruz, spokeswoman for United's flight attendants union. She added that salaries could be $23,000 to $24,000 a year with overtime pay.

During its bankruptcy restructuring, United laid off 5,500 flight attendants, half of whom were brought back in the past year. The remainder either retired or found jobs elsewhere. Many flight attendants left the airline after it terminated their pension plan in the summer as part of its financial restructuring.

"Many of them just couldn't afford to work here anymore," Nelson Dela Cruz said.

But she said the hiring was "good news" for the future of the airline, which has about 24,000 flight attendants. United has not hired flight attendants since 2001.

Jane Allen, United's senior vice president of on-board services, encouraged flight attendants laid off from other airlines or facing possible layoffs to apply. The airline is looking for applicants with no airline experience as well.

"If a person has worked for another carrier, great. We will look at every candidate at his or her own merit," she said.

Besides the hiring at Dulles, United will also begin looking for workers at Chicago's O'Hare International, its hometown airport. Next year, the airline plans to hire for its hub at San Francisco International Airport, Allen said.

United -- the world's second-largest carrier -- will begin taking applications Sunday via its Web site. The airline said it plans to hold face-to-face interviews after applicants are screened on its Web site.

Applicants must be at least 21 years old and able to fly internationally. Flight attendants would also receive normal flying privileges, which means that they or a family member could fly free or for a small fee on personal trips.