United Upgrading Gates to Accomodate A380 with New Washington Dulles Agreement

United Airlines has been using Washington Dulles as a hub since 1986The Washington Post reports that United has extended its agreement with Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority (MWAA). This agreement extends a 3-year lease United signed in 2015, extending United’s operation at Dulles until 2025.

Washington Dulles Concourse C, part of where United operates. Photo by TheAirIsBetter, used with permission.

Washington Dulles Concourse C, part of where United operates. Photo by TheAirIsBetter, used with permission.

There were rumors that United may drop Washington Dulles as a hub, and instead focusing on Newark, which is only ~200 miles from Dulles. This new agreement, however, seems to put those rumors to rest, at least for now.

Tagging Miles pointed out something interesting from the briefing slides for the agreement. It looks like part of the deal includes a $446 million capital construction program for up-keeping  the airport. However, the terms specific mention the modification of some existing gates to accommodate the A380. This is of course interesting, because United doesn’t fly any A380, nor do they have any on order. In fact, John Rainey, then United’s CFO in 2015, went on record saying that the A380 doesn’t work for United.

Briefing Slides for the Amended Agreement Between MWAA and United Regarding Washington Dulles

Briefing Slides for the Amended Agreement Between MWAA and United Regarding Washington Dulles

I wouldn’t look too much into this for now, but it does give a hint as to what United might be thinking for the long-term. Concourses C and D in Washington-Dulles are exclusively used by United, so any modifications to C/D gates will really only benefit United. Perhaps United’s strategy includes increasing capacity instead of (or along with) frequency. Still, the A380 isn’t really popular at the moment, and Boeing is already planning on stretching 777s to compete, so this is an interesting development.

Currently, only British Airways, Air France, and Emirates fly the A380 to Washington Dulles. Lufthansa, United’s Star Alliance partner, owns the A380, but does not currently fly it to Washington. ANA, also a Star Alliance member, will receive their A380 in 2019, but still haven’t confirmed the destination their A380 will serve.

Frankly, I don’t think the A380 makes sense for United either. However, this is a good opportunity to upgrade their facilities, and at least they are preparing for all potential scenarios!

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