Charlotte Douglas International Airport will soon boast more nonstop international routes than ever before, after US Airways said Monday it plans to add flights to four European cities from Charlotte next year.
The seasonal flights to Barcelona, Spain; Lisbon, Portugal; Brussels; and Manchester, England, underscore the rapid growth of international flights from Charlotte Douglas, which is US Airways’ busiest hub. The new flights also represent a significant expansion of US Airways’ operation in Charlotte at a time of uncertainty for the airport and the airline.
“What a great affirmation from US Airways at a time when their merger is in question, at a time when we are trying to sort through the governance of the airport,” said Charlotte Chamber President Bob Morgan.
US Airways is fighting to complete its merger with American Airlines in the face of opposition from the U.S. Department of Justice. Meanwhile, the question of whether the city or a new, independent commission should run Charlotte Douglas is tied up in court.
US Airways said the flights to Barcelona, Lisbon and Manchester will begin May 22. The Brussels flight will launch June 5. The Barcelona flight will run through Oct. 24, the Lisbon and Manchester flights through Sept. 28, and the Brussels flight through Sept. 1.
US Airways currently flies to those airports from its Philadelphia hub. The Charlotte routes will supplement that service, US Airways said.
The new flights bring US Airways’ total number of international nonstop routes flown from Charlotte Douglas to 38, with 10 to Europe and the rest to North America, South America and the Caribbean.
“This is something that you do with a large hub, where you’re able to pull together enough traffic to operate long-haul, international service,” said New York-based aviation analyst Bob Mann. The most profitable use of airplanes is typically on such flights, Mann said, and the trans-Atlantic market has been strong recently.
The number of international travelers using Charlotte Douglas has increased sharply over the past five years, according to the airport’s statistics. In August, the most recent month available, 138,347 international passengers boarded flights at Charlotte Douglas, up 46 percent from August 2008.
Just five years ago, US Airways had only two nonstop flights from Charlotte to Europe: London-Gatwick and Frankfurt. Since then, the company has added Paris (2009), Rome (2010), Madrid and Dublin (2011) and replaced Gatwick International Airport with the more popular London-Heathrow destination.
Morgan said the time savings for business travelers can be substantial.
“It saves time, and time is money,” Morgan said.
A nonstop flight from Charlotte to Barcelona lists a total travel time of 8 hours and 35 minutes on US Airways’ website. With a layover in Philadelphia, that travel time increases to more than 13 hours.
US Airways executives said Monday’s announcement of new seasonal service would help them meet peak travel demand for European cities and help boost the company in advance of its planned merger with American Airlines. The Department of Justice has sued to block that merger on antitrust grounds, and a trial is scheduled for next month.
“Our new flights also help strengthen the foundation for our pending merger with American Airlines by providing more access to a broad network,” Andrew Nocella, US Airways senior vice president, said in a statement.
Last year, US Airways flew more than 1.2 million international passengers from Charlotte, up 25 percent from 2008. That’s slightly fewer than the 1.4 million international passengers the airline flew from Philadelphia, which it calls its “international gateway.”
The company’s financial results show that the trans-Atlantic flights have been a point of strength in recent months. Through September, US Airways said the number of travelers on its trans-Atlantic flights was up 4.4 percent compared with the same period last year. The airlines’ trans-Atlantic flights were, on average, 81.6 percent full, up from 79.2 percent full last year.
US Airways is scheduled to report its quarterly earnings on Wednesday.
Charlotte Mayor Patsy Kinsey praised the new flights in written remarks, saying the flights would help boost Charlotte’s business community.
“This new service will provide our business community with more convenient access to Europe’s business capitals,” Kinsey said. “US Airways continues to boost our economy and enhance Charlotte’s reputation as a world-class city.”
In the coming years, Morgan said he hopes the airport will focus on landing nonstop service between Charlotte and Asia, which it currently lacks.
“The one part of the globe that we still haven’t tapped yet is Asia,” Morgan said. “There’s a lot of business being done between Charlotte and China.”
US Airways currently doesn’t fly any routes to Asia. But if the merger with American is approved, that carrier’s Asian routes would become part of the combined airline’s route network. And a planned 12,500-foot runway at Charlotte Douglas, which the airport hopes to build in the coming years, would be long enough to accommodate any type of plane.
So what does Morgan think of the possibility of an Airbus A380, the world’s largest commercial airplane, taking off on a direct flight from Charlotte to China?
“That would be beautiful,” Morgan said.