New signs are up, planes have been repainted and the ad campaign has been rolled out.
Six days before Independence Air's planes will take off for the first time, the new low-fare carrier said it is ready for business at Dulles International Airport.
The launch of an airline often requires companies to leap logistical hurdles, but officials of Independence Air, a carrier of Atlantic Coast Airlines, and officials of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority say that, for the most part, the preparations have been minimal.
Because Atlantic had been flying out of Dulles under the banner of United Express, the company did not need to build facilities or gates, said Rick DeLisi, a spokesman for Independence. Much of the preparation for the airline's startup Wednesday has focused on building a new image.
"Operationally, we're flying aircraft as we always have," DeLisi said. "What's new is the low-fare brand name and our public awareness."
The company has begun a $30 million marketing campaign, with advertisements on television and radio stations and in newspapers featuring such celebrities as comedian Dennis Miller, Democratic pundit James Carville and his wife, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, and soccer star Mia Hamm. A fleet of pickups painted to look like the new Independence planes has been cruising around Northern Virginia and Washington.
DeLisi said Concourse A at Dulles, where the airline will have its gates, has been given a different look, with the company's colors (shades of blue) and logo (an "i" within a circle). Seating areas in the concourse have been expanded. Many of the airline's 87 aircraft have already returned to Dulles from the facility in Mississippi where they were repainted.
DeLisi said that not everything was being done at once. Atlantic will continue operating some United Express flights through the first week of August. "This whole thing is one big rolling transition," he said.
Independence employees could be seen this week training at the ticket counter in Dulles. Almost a dozen check-in kiosks had been set up nearby.
On Wednesday, Independence will begin flights between Dulles and Boston, Atlanta, Newark, Chicago O'Hare and Raleigh/Durham, N.C. A flight destined for each city will take off at the same time Wednesday morning. The airline will operate in 35 cities by fall and plans to add more cities gradually.
Atlantic, one of Loudoun County's top five employers, is expanding its workforce at Dulles. The airline previously had 65 percent of its 4,100 employees based at the airport, and with the creation of Independence, 85 percent, or nearly 3,500 employees, will be based there.
Loudoun County officials, hopeful that Independence will provide an economic boost for the region, have heralded Independence's arrival with a good deal of pomp. The Board of Supervisors declared Wednesday "Independence Air Day" and the start of "Independence Air Week."
Airline industry officials have told the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development that Independence is expected to bring in as many as 10 million more passengers to Dulles its first year, according to the department's director, Larry Rosenstrauch.
Rosenstrauch said businesses in the area already value their proximity to Dulles and the access it provides. He said the launch of a low-fare carrier will help keep businesses in Loudoun and possibly attract others that will see Independence as a cost-efficient way to travel. "It will be a huge asset for getting and keeping business," Rosenstrauch said.
Transportation officials have expressed concern that Independence, which is expected to operate 300 flights a day out of Dulles, will add to the congestion there this summer. Last month, the Department of Transportation's inspector general said traffic at Dulles was expected to increase 17 percent from last summer.
In addition to Independence, United's new low-fare subsidiary, Ted, recently began flying in and out of Dulles. The airport's east-west runway has also been closed since April for renovations and is not expected to reopen until August.
Tom Sullivan, spokesman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, acknowledged the potential for clogging.
"Clearly, if Independence is successful, there are going to be a lot more people in the terminal and a lot more takeoffs and landings," he said.
Sullivan said his agency has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration on ways to curb congestion.