American Airlines, CLT detail growth plans

American Airlines and Charlotte Douglas International officials detailed plans for growth at a City Council meeting Monday, but also said that the carrier’s flight schedule will be under review for more than a year.

Tracy Montross, director of government and community relations for American Airlines in Charlotte, told council members that Charlotte Douglas should expect to see more tweaking of its flight schedule. The airline has added four seasonal routes to Europe – but then cut them back due to weak demand – and added more Midwest routes.

“Our route structure will be under review until at least late 2015,” said Montross. “This is the question I get a lot.

“Based on the economic performance of those routes, we have to manage the schedule. As those routes are announced, we’ll be sure to keep you updated on how they’re performing,” she said.

Terri Pope, American’s vice president for Charlotte Douglas, said the airport will remain a major hub. Details such as the international route structure are still being decided.

“Charlotte will absolutely remain a huge piece of American’s future,” said Pope. “What that looks like, we’re still planning for.”

US Airways and American Airlines merged in December. Charlotte Douglas is the combined carrier’s second-busiest hub, with about 650 daily flights – more than 90 percent of the airport’s total.

Charlotte Douglas is unique: A huge hub with a small passenger base.

“Charlotte’s population compared to other hubs is very low,” Montross said.

As a result, 80 percent of the airport’s passengers are connecting, not starting or stopping their trips in the city. The city also has the smallest “unit revenue,” or the revenue the airline gets from each passenger, of any East Coast hub.

Montross called the airport’s city staff “great friends” of American. She said the airline looks forward to seeing a resolution of the long-running controversy over who will run Charlotte Douglas, the City Council or a new regional commission.

“We’re very fortunate to have great relationships with CLT,” Montross said.

Charlotte Douglas officials said they plan to forge ahead with the airport’s $1.5 billion, five-year expansion plan, while maintaining a strong credit rating.

“Growth strategy is based on demand,” said Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle. “That is absolutely the key for us.”

The airport plans to finish its new hourly and business valet parking decks, a new baggage system, entrance roads and an expansion of the west side of the terminal soon. Then, the airport will start projects such as its $30 million terminal remodeling, building more gates and expanding the road in front of the terminal to eight lanes.

Cagle acknowledged some “growing pains” at the airport, as Charlotte Douglas adjusts to the parking congestion and road changes. But he predicted the airport could one day be as large as Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, with five parallel runways.

City Council members also aired some of their gripes about air travel. Council member Claire Fallon said seats are too small on crowded planes.

“Those seats are made for midgets now. It’s really ridiculous. It’s uncomfortable, and it does not serve the public,” Fallon said.

“We do like to think providing those seats does a great service for the public, but I take those comments to heart and I’ll pass them along,” Montross said.

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