Southwest, Still Eager for Philadelphia Airport Gates, Cites Roadblock

Southwest Airlines still wants to lease more gates at Philadelphia International Airport, but it doesn't believe the US Airways bankruptcy process offers the means to do that, Southwest chief executive officer Gary C. Kelly said yesterday.

Southwest has said for months that it would like more than the six gates, four in Terminal E and two in Terminal D, that it has now. Without more gates, it cannot expand beyond the 50 flights a day it will have from Philadelphia by September, Kelly said at a Merrill Lynch conference in New York.

US Airways, Philadelphia's largest carrier, said last month that it would be acquired by America West Airlines, a deal that requires U.S. Bankruptcy Court approval. Judge Stephen Mitchell has given US Airways until June 30 to consider other bids.

Kelly said it was no secret that Southwest wanted to continue growing here. The Dallas discounter started service here May 9, 2004, with 14 daily flights. It has added service in three waves since.

"I wouldn't discount the thought of making a bid" for some US Airways assets, Kelly said. "But realistically, we're just offering to pay a certain amount for gates in Philadelphia... . That won't compete with the bid that's on the table."

Although Philadelphia suffers from air-traffic congestion because it is a US Airways hub, Southwest is eager to offer more flights, he said, because there still is pent-up demand for low fares.

Philadelphia airport officials plan to expand Terminal E, adding three gates at the end of the concourse, but the project is not scheduled for completion until mid-2007.