NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In the early 1990s, commercial aviation gave up on John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Hub carrier Pan Am shut down. The New York area had two other airports, both more popular. Mass transit to JFK was inadequate. JFK was considered to be fine for international, but domestic travelers would never go all the way out there.
Who thought this? Everybody. Or everybody except for David Neeleman, who wanted to start a JFK-based domestic airline. Today, JetBlue (JBLU) is one of four key airlines in the world's biggest travel market.
Why bring this up? Because the very same opportunity exists today at Washington Dulles International Airport.
To review, hub carrier United (UAL) isn't gone, but it has pulled way back. The Washington area has two other airports, both more popular. Mass transit is inadequate -- but the Washington Metro is coming in 2020. Dulles is thought to be fine for international, but domestic travelers would never go all the way out there. Sound familiar?
A big question today is: Where are the airline start-ups? Throughout its history, the U.S. airline industry has been besieged by start-ups. Granted, nearly all of them failed. But a handful succeeded. All it takes is a good idea, a smart entrepreneur, a boatload of money, a lot of luck and the right airport.
Dulles is the right airport. Moreover, the Washington Airports Task Force, a non-profit partially funded by Virginia, wants to help. The task force is dedicated to "optimizing the capacity" of Dulles. "I would love to see (a new airline)," said Keith Meurlin, task force president, who retired as Dulles airport manager in 2005 after 28 years at the airport.
For the moment, Dulles trends are not good. Dulles served 21.6 million passengers in 2014, down from 27 million in 2007. By contrast, Reagan National Airport served 20.8 million in 2014, up from 17.8 million in 2005. Baltimore-Washington served 22.3 million in 2014, up from 19.7 million in 2005.
In February, Dulles traffic was down 2.7% from a year earlier. United's domestic passenger count fell 10% as the carrier ended flights to 16 destinations and reduced flights to 29 others. United's international passenger count fell 14%, as service to a half dozen destinations was cut or suspended. Also Southwest's (LUV) passenger count fell 11%, while growing 130% at National, where the carrier acquired slots.
"Dulles had a very robust partner in United a few years ago," Meurlin said. "United was making money back then. But the drive for efficiency, consolidation, and yield has negatively impacted Dulles."
Call it cutting back under pressure from Wall Street, if you like. Or call it creating a huge opportunity at an underserved airport that is not only located in the country's seventh-largest metropolitan statistical area, but is also a major international hub. At Dulles, 24 international carriers serve 49 destinations, including 34 on United.Must Read: Can Capitals Help Etihad Face Off Against American, Delta and United in DC?