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Airline merger could squeeze some hub airports

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 14, 2013 at 2:07 pm •  Published: February 14, 2013

Airport officials said the city has prospered from hub status, with 8,000 new companies investing more than $5 billion in the area to create more than 78,000 jobs since the current terminal opened in 1982. Among them is Chiquita Brands International, which announced in 2011 it was abandoning Cincinnati in large part because of greater access to foreign flights from Charlotte. Cincinnati's airport had been hit hard by Delta's decision to shift flights to other hubs after merging with Northwest Airlines in 2007.

Charlotte-Douglass also benefits from its location outside of the Northeast Corridor, where congestion in New York and Philadelphia's overlapping airspace is a frequent problem.

But all of that may not be enough to ensure Charlotte's future, said Adie Tomer, an associate fellow at the Brookings Institution. With 1.8 million people, the city just isn't big enough.

"There's a lot of advantages to Charlotte, but they don't have the local base to fall back on, so they have to constantly incentivize the airline itself to keep flying through there," he said. "They just really have a connectivity that vastly outranks their metropolitan, economic standing."

The merger comes at a critical time for Philadelphia International Airport, which is about to begin a $6.5 billion expansion that includes a runway extension that will allow it to serve the biggest jets currently flying. Officials in Philadelphia have been preparing for the merger for months, getting ready to make a case for the combined airline to move some international air traffic from the American hub at New York's JFK.

"If the new airline would place some of those long-haul aircraft into Philadelphia, we might be able to gain access to those markets," airport CEO Mark Gale said.

The new airline will be based in Texas, near American's hub at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. That's already a loss for Phoenix, as US Airways was headquartered in suburban Tempe, Ariz.

While Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer says she has assurances from Parker, the US Airways CEO, that the company will keep most of its local jobs, some believe its airport would be downsized if the new airline decided to base its West Coast hub at the nearby and much larger Los Angeles International Airport.

Deborah Ostreicher, the deputy aviation director at Sky Harbor International Airport, said she's confident it can entice the airline to stay with low per passenger fees, more space and a willingness to expand facilities, as well as great weather, which means far fewer delays.

"And if they do cut service in some areas, again we have such a strong market here we're confident that another airline either existing or a new one that maybe hasn't come into the market ... would say, 'That looks like a good profit for us, let's come into Phoenix,'" she said.