U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey slammed US Airways yesterday for what they called "breached" commitments to the Pittsburgh area and urged the airline to reconsider its vast cutbacks and its treatment of local workers.
"The point is, we've gone to hell and back for [US Airways], and they've thumbed their nose at the city," Mr. Specter, a five-term Republican, told reporters.
In a statement, airline officials said they were reacting to market realities and couldn't stand by promises made before US Airways merged with Tempe, Ariz.-based America West Airlines in 2005.
As recently as Aug. 24, US Airways Chief Executive Doug Parker sent an e-mail message to a union leader saying that the airline had no plans to further reduce its presence in Pittsburgh.
But six weeks later Mr. Parker announced a decision to cut another 40 flights in January, eliminate 450 local jobs and shift 500 local pilots and flight attendants elsewhere in its system, leading to the closure of its Pittsburgh crew base.
That will leave the region's largest carrier with just 68 daily flights and 1,800 local employees, down from highs of 542 flights and 11,995 people in September 2001.
US Airways also announced yesterday that it is offering buyouts to 314 senior flight attendants in the area.
In a letter to Mr. Parker, Mr. Specter and Mr. Casey criticized the company for not offering the same deal to machinists, pilots and ground workers who don't want to relocate after their Pittsburgh jobs are eliminated.
"A lot of these people want to stay in Pittsburgh. They shouldn't be penalized," Mr. Casey said. "We're not asking for much. We're asking for basic fairness."
In a separate letter, Mr. Specter said his support for the airline has been "steadfast" since the $1 billion Pittsburgh International Airport opened in 1992 with US Airways as its main tenant. From 1995 to 2007, Mr. Specter said, he wrote 11 letters supporting applications for new international routes. He also backed US Airways' 2002 application for federal loan guarantees following the 9/11 attacks.
In December 2002, an airline official called Mr. Specter to contact the U.S. secretaries of labor, commerce, and the treasury for urgent help with its talks with Alabama's state pension fund.
"Well, getting somebody on a Friday afternoon is pretty tough stuff, especially in Christmas season," Mr. Specter said. "I went to bat and got those people."
But on March 30, 2003, as US Airways emerged from its first bankruptcy, the airline rejected its lease agreements with the Allegheny County Airport Authority. Mr. Specter said he "was advised that this action violated a written promise to honor the lease agreements made by US Airways only weeks earlier."
Then in May 2004, US Airways stripped Pittsburgh of its hub status "and with it the service expectations envisioned by the public when the airport was constructed to US Airways' specifications for $1 billion," the senator wrote.
In late August, Mark Gentile, president of Association of Flight Attendants Local 40, contacted the airline CEO after hearing rumors that Mr. Parker had said something to a Charlotte, N.C., training class about a "big reduction in Pittsburgh." Mr. Parker, he said, "immediately" messaged the union official back with the assurance that Pittsburgh was safe.
"I certainly don't want to shrink [the airport] any more than we have," Mr. Parker wrote. "We currently have no plans to do so."
Mr. Gentile informed his members that rumors of a dramatic downsizing were unfounded.
About three weeks later, Mr. Parker visited Pittsburgh for a Sept. 12 Steelers-themed plane dedication, and hinted that more flight cuts might be on the way, saying Pittsburgh was now "marginally unprofitable."
Mr. Gentile said he talked to Mr. Parker that same day and was told "we are losing money on a couple of flights" and that "we are going to have to take a look at that." There was nothing about a shutdown of "the whole base," Mr. Gentile said.
Specter, other PA lawmakers issue a public rebuke of airline's CEO
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