8/31 PIT Post-Gazette Article



Pittsburgh airport facing 16% cut in US Airways flights - City takes biggest hit among airline's hubs
PITTSBURGH (Post-Gazette) - US Airways plans by November to eliminate 16 percent of its daily flights at Pittsburgh International Airport, by far the biggest cutbacks announced yesterday for its three major hub airports.
The airline, which filed for bankruptcy protection Aug. 11, said the elimination of 81 daily flights in Pittsburgh and 305 overall throughout its route system was necessary because of continued industry-wide declines in air traffic.
The scheduling changes were in keeping with what US Airways' officials have been saying for weeks: that to return to profitability, the nation's seventh-largest carrier must streamline by operating fewer aircraft and eliminating unprofitable routes.
Under the new schedule, the number of daily mainline flights at Pittsburgh International Airport will drop 205 to 161, while the commuter service will shrink from 290 daily flights to 253.
The drop-off in daily flights, from 495 to 414, will push Pittsburgh below Charlotte, N.C., as US Airways' largest hub. Charlotte's daily flights are slated to be pared from 494 to 462, while the airline's third-largest hub, Philadelphia International Airport, will see its number of daily flights fall only slightly, from 399 to 390.
JoAnn Jenny, spokeswoman for the Allegheny County Airport Authority, said the cuts were anticipated but that Pittsburgh International Airport executives don't "necessarily see it as welcome news."
Still, she said the airport remains optimistic that US Airways eventually will offset the November cutbacks by growing its newly formed regional jet subsidiary, Mid-Atlantic Airways, which will be based at Pittsburgh International.
US Airways' officials have said that they expect that any jobs lost in the local mainline operations would be picked up by the expanded regional operations, though pilots and others who shift to the commuter unit can expect to be paid less.
The airline also has said it will continue to serve the 204 markets it already serves except for Saginaw, Mich.
Andrew Nocella, US Airways' vice president for planning, yesterday said he expected MidAtlantic would take possession of 80 regional jets during the next 12 months, with operations "slowly beginning" in the first quarter of 2003 but "rapidly accelerating" during the third quarter.
The airline is struggling to return to profitability by replacing mainline jet service with commuter jet operations to better match airline capacity to passenger demand.
US Airways has said it must increase the number of smaller, regional jets it deploys in order to stave off competition from such low-cost carriers as Southwest and JetBlue airlines.
Systemwide, US Airways yesterday said it will cut 305 daily mainline and commuter flights, from 3,785 to 3,480 by November.
The number of mainline flights will be trimmed by about 13 percent, from 1,545 to 1,352.
The airline first announced plans to reduce mainline and commuter jet service on Aug. 21, but it wasn't until yesterday that the Arlington, Va.-based carrier provided any details.
The schedule changes will result in 250 previously announced pilot layoffs by November, on top of the 1,070 already furloughed. In addition, 423 mechanics and related workers are expected to be laid off as a result of the reduction in air service, along with 437 flight attendants. The company also indicated that it plans to reduce its mainline fleet size 10 percent, or 33 planes, to 278.
Nocella said the new route structure and scheduling changes were aimed at answering two frequently mentioned criticisms of the airline: that its hubs are too close together and appear to compete with each other for business.
Nocella said under the new scheduling arrangements, each hub would have a focus. Pittsburgh would be the seat of a newly expanded regional jet fleet as well as the primary hub to handle East-West flights.
Charlotte would be the primary connector for US Airways' North-South flights, while Philadelphia would be "the gateway" to its European and Caribbean flights.
Meanwhile, US Airways and its unionized mechanics remained at loggerheads since the International Association of Machinists on Wednesday decisively rejected concessions that would have saved the company $160 million a year in costs over the next 6 1/2 years.
Yesterday, US Airways Chief Executive Officer David Siegel met with IAM General Vice President Robert Roach Jr., but apparently with no concrete results. And no further discussions between the machinists union and the company are scheduled, the union said.
US Airways has said that unless it can get the unionized mechanics voluntarily agree to concessions, it will seek to have a federal bankruptcy court judge to abrogate the existing contracts at a hearing Sept. 10.
Roach said the union will "aggressively oppose" the company's attempt to modify the collective bargaining agreement.
US Airways had originally asked the unionized mechanics to accept a 6.8 percent wage cut, retroactive to July 1, with modest increases beginning in 2004. But if the two sides can't agree on concessions, the airline has indicated it will seek an 8.4 percent wage reduction effective July 1, according to court documents.
The airline also indicated it will ask that the union be assessed $5.1 million a month for six months to reimburse US Airways for "economic detriment of the bankruptcy."
The company is still in negotiations with the Communication Workers of America, which represents 7,200 ticket agents, over the airline's request for $70 million in annual cuts over 6 1/2 years. These would include a 10.2 percent wage reduction retroactive to July 1, but full-time employees would be guaranteed a minimum $30,000-a-year salary, according to court documents.
If the two fail to agree on voluntary concessions, the airline wants the CWA assessed $2.4 million a month for six months.