American Airlines remains committed to Charlotte as a hub, and the area’s business community will continue to benefit from the carrier’s ramped-up investment in the airport as it works to complete its merger with US Airways.
That was the message Wednesday from Tracy Montross, American Airlines’ local director of government affairs, at a lunch meeting in SouthPark. To support integration efforts with USAirways, Montross said, American has hired 400 new employees in Charlotte since November 2014. In total, the carrier employs about 10,500 people in Charlotte.
Montross also said it’s a major priority for the airline to get state legislators to pass a sales tax exemption on jet fuel. Absent the current $2.5 million tax cap on fuel, which expires on Jan. 1, North Carolina will be the fifth most expensive place in the U.S. to buy jet fuel, she added.
“It’s an important argument, certainly important to the industry, that jet fuel be treated as a business input that it be exempt from the sales tax, and we’d like to see the legislature address it this session,” Montross told the lunch meeting of the Hood Hargett Breakfast Club.
An economic incentives bill, House Bill 117, currently pending in the N.C. legislature, would extend the cap. It could be voted on as early as next week.
Critics of the measure have said it is unfair to taxpayers. Analysts say extending the break would cost the state $12 million.
American Airlines, which has its second-largest hub in Charlotte thanks to its 2013 merger with US Airways, is the airline to have benefited primarily from the tax break, Montross said.
Pressed on whether the carrier would consider leaving the Charlotte Douglas International Airport as a hub if the cap isn’t passed, Montross said: “Charlotte is an important asset for American Airlines. We don’t anticipate any change to our hub structure here.”
Dozens of corporations cite connectivity from the Charlotte Douglas as the reason they’re based in Charlotte, according to a recent economic impact study from the Charlotte Chamber.
Every year, those companies employ more than 27,000 people, pay wages of $2.1 billion and generate $5.5 billion in economic activity, according to the study.
And last year, Charlotte generated over $30 million in sales tax revenue just based off retail and concessions in the airport, Montross said. Those are primarily generated by the 80 percent of total passengers who go through Charlotte Douglas but never leave the airport.
On other subjects, Montross said:
▪ The airline is making “great progress” on working with the city to renew its lease at Charlotte Douglas. The 30-year lease expires in June.
▪ By Oct. 17 this year, the airline will rebrand all locations to American Airlines, Montross said. Customers will book through one airline, and the carrier will have one website, one mobile app and one set of travel policies and elite benefits.
▪ The American Airlines Group, as the combined company is called, will have the youngest fleet of airplanes in the industry, Montross added, as well as other upgraded features like a first class on regional jets, satellite-based Wi-Fi on international flights, new menus and esthetic upgrades to its elite clubs.
Staff Writer Jim Morrill contributed.