US Airways has called a federal report that says Miami could be a better airline hub in the Southeast than Charlotte “completely false.”
The Government Accountability Office wrote Wednesday in a congressional report about the potential for Charlotte to lose out to Miami in the planned US Airways-American merger.
US Airways told its employees in a newsletter that the GAO report did not “provide anything to support its assertions about closing hubs.” In an interview Friday, the airline said that a key factor in keeping Charlotte a large hub in a newly merged airline is geography.
It wouldn’t make sense to shift millions of passengers who use Charlotte Douglas International for connections to an airport that’s more than 90 minutes away by flying time, the airline said.
“We don’t think a lot of passengers from the South are going to want to go south to Miami to go to the Northeast,” said Howard Kass, US Airways vice president for legal and government affairs.
Kass said Friday he was “surprised” by the GAO report, which was discussed at a Senate committee hearing Wednesday.
“We were surprised given the importance of the Charlotte hub that there was a suggestion it wouldn’t be big,” Kass said. “Our track record with international growth has been strong. We have grown the hub 15 percent since 2008.”
In the past, US Airways chief executive Doug Parker has said he believes Charlotte could grow in the new airline to 700 daily flights, up from 649 today.
In an interview with the Observer on Friday, the report’s author, Gerald Dillingham, said the scenario of Charlotte losing out to Miami was only a “possibility.”
“We just talked about possibilities, not a probability,” Dillingham said. “Between American and US Airways, there are five hubs along the East Coast. If they were looking at it, they could make any moves they wanted to. We weren’t saying they would close Charlotte or Philly. But we have seen in the past that airlines say a lot of things before a merger.”
Dillingham was referring to cities such as St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Memphis, Tenn., which have all been de-hubbed or had air service slashed since 2001.
Pittsburgh’s air service was cut deeply after the merger of US Airways and America West in 2005.
US Airways said Friday that in addition to Charlotte’s domestic hub staying intact, it believes its flights from Charlotte to the Caribbean and Latin America will remain.
There is already significant overlap between the two airlines to the tourist destinations: US Airways offers the third-most seats to the Caribbean, while American Airlines has the most seats.
US Airways flies to 18 destinations to the Caribbean from Charlotte. It also flies to Rio De Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil, two cities in Costa Rica and three other destinations in Mexico and Central America.
American is a powerhouse to Latin America, with non-stops from Miami to nearly 20 South American cities.
In an interview with the Observer this week, airline consultant Bob Mann said the new airline might keep Charlotte’s two flights to Brazil. One reason, he said, is that the airports are restricted to a certain number of takeoffs and landings that are subject to government approval. That means the new airline couldn’t easily shift the flights somewhere else.
In response to US Airways’ application to secure permanent rights to fly from Charlotte to Sao Paulo, Delta Air Lines suggested the route would be redundant, since American already flies from Miami to Sao Paulo.
Kass said US Airways’ position is that the two flights serve different markets. The Charlotte flight is mostly for passengers from other cities who connect through Charlotte.
US Airways has received preliminary approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue flying the Sao Paulo-Charlotte route on a permanent basis, according to a news release from U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s office sent Friday.
Mann said one Charlotte advantage is that Miami charges significantly higher fees to airlines than Charlotte. Miami’s fees are near $20 per enplaned passenger, while Charlotte’s fees are less than $2 per passenger.
Seth Kaplan of Airline Weekly said competition with Delta would be a factor in how a new US Airways-American decided to allocate Caribbean and South American flights between Charlotte and Miami.
Delta and US Airways today compete for passengers flying to the Caribbean from medium-sized cities such as Mobile, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., and Columbia.
Delta routes them through Atlanta, while US Airways sends them through Charlotte.
By shifting Caribbean flights to Miami, the new airline would make those passengers connect twice unless it added more domestic destinations to Miami.
“Charlotte is in direct competition with Atlanta,” Kaplan said. “That dynamic matters far more than whatever redundancies exist with Miami.”
He added that “any flights American ends from Charlotte, they would be handing passengers to Delta at numerous cities throughout the Southeast.”
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