Pittsburgh Wants International Air Service

Even with more than 260 foreign-based companies in Western Pennsylvania, a problem has been getting an airline to agree.

Business and political leaders agree Pittsburgh needs nonstop international air service.

But even with more than 260 foreign-based companies in Western Pennsylvania, a problem has been getting an airline -- any airline -- to agree.

Area leaders have made progress in recruiting such top-flight discount air carriers as Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue to make up some of the significant loss of domestic air service in the wake US Airways' downsizing of operations at Pittsburgh International Airport.

However, its been since late in 2004 the airport last could travelers a nonstop connection across the Atlantic.

That chagrins people such as Elie Saad, vice president at Lanxess Corp., a German-owned maker of chemicals and polymers.

Saad, a frequent flyer, is among dozens of Lanxess employees who must take flights toPhiladelphia, New York, Newark, Charlotte, and even Chicago and Detroit to connect to nonstop flights overseas.

"It can cost you a whole day's worth of work," said Saad.

"It's a huge problem," said Randall Dearth, chief executive for Lanxess, a spinoff from Bayer AG, with its North American headquarters in Findlay. It is one of 70 German-owned companies in the region, who collectively employ about 9,500 people.

When Pittsburgh had direct flights to Germany, the company's employees could leave Pittsburgh in mid-afternoon for a flight to Frankfurt. Now, they must leave by 10 or 11 a.m., which is "a big inconvenience," Dearth said.

It also results in lost productivity, according to Lanxess officials. The company's employees lost about 1,300 hours of precious work during the 260 flights they made overseas in 2005.

If those employees worked in Cincinnati, they would have no such problem.

Cincinnati is a similarly-sized city. There, however, Delta Airlines operates nonstop flights to London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris and Rome.

There is a simple reason, said airline industry expert Robert W. Mann.

Summed up in one word, it's "hub," said Mann, head of R.W. Mann & Co. Inc., of Long Island, N.Y.

Mann notes that The Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is Delta's second largest hub airport, a claim Pittsburgh no longer can make about US Airways.

"The difference there is it's still operating as a hub; it has substantial feed (flights from other Delta-served cities) into Cincinnati, and that's what keeps it going. It's not Cincinnati originating business that makes the difference, its the feed from surrounding cities that use Cincinnati as a connecting point," Mann said.

"What has happened at Pittsburgh is that a lot of those spokes were removed by US Airways. What remains is a lot of service, but spread among a lot of carriers. So there's no single carrier that controls Pittsburgh's feed to the extent that US Airways once did, and that's really the difference."

Delta boasts it is the fastest growing major U.S.-based carrier in international service, with 15 new routes announced, added or applied since Jan. 1, 2005. It flies to Europe, India and Israel.

By summer, it expects to be flying 51 daily departures to 29 different cities in those countries, including the five from Cincinnati. Pittsburgh is not on Delta's expansion list.

The airline does not disclose financial or occupancy data about specific flights, said spokeswoman Gina Laughlin. She said the fact that the flights from Cincinnati to Europe are expanding is an indication they are performing satisfactorily.

Pittsburgh lost nonstop flights to Europe in November 2004, when US Airways ended service to Frankfurt. It also used to have nonstop service to London and to Paris.

In March, US Airways officials said they don't believe it is financially feasible to fly from Pittsburgh International now.

Scott Kirby, executive vice president of sales and marketing for US Airways, said a Frankfurt flight would need to generate between $70 million and $80 million annually.

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