Pittsburgh Sees Hubbub Despite Loss of US Airways Hub

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Pittsburgh International Airport is finding out that life after losing hub status isn't that bad.

When US Airways announced a year ago that it would modify the airport's hub-and-spoke network to a point-to-point network or ''focus city,'' many people feared the region's economy would suffer.

Instead, the airport has picked up low cost carriers and its origin and destination traffic - passengers flying from or to the area, not simply connecting to another flight - continues to increase.

Lawrence Krauter, president of the Aviation Council of Pennsylvania, said that when the dominant carrier made its announcement about cuts in Pittsburgh, officials feared the unknown. While the change is still new, ''people are still fundamentally able to get where they want to go,'' he said.

US Airways cut daily flights from 373 to 229 late last year; before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks it had more than 540. It now offers 233 daily nonstop flights out of Pittsburgh to 66 destinations.

But the flights that were cut were largely connecting flights, which the airport authority had no control over, said airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny.

''The plan the airport authority has been operating under ... has been to increase and promote the number of airline choices,'' she said. ''These airways come to Pittsburgh not because they feel sorry for us ... they're making business decisions and they feel they can come in here and make money.''

Origin and destination traffic increased from about 3.5 million in 2003 to 3.7 million last year and Jenny said the airport hopes to get about 5 million this year.

Flights by carriers other than US Airways increased 18.7 percent in 2004. An increase for this year also is expected.

''In terms of traffic coming in and out of Pittsburgh, it's at record levels,'' Jenny said. Fares also have never been lower than they are now, she said.

That's partly thanks to Southwest Airlines, which began service earlier this month.

Southwest, the Dallas-based low-cost carrier, offers 10 flights to four cities. Depending on how passengers embrace the airline, it may add flights.

Hooters Air, another low cost carrier, also began offering flights to Myrtle Beach, S.C., in February.

Airport officials are hopeful Southwest's presence will increase the number of passengers and force other airlines to lower fares.

''When demand is there, demand will be met. It may be met in a different manner, but it will still be met,'' Krauter said.

The picture has not been entirely rosy, however.

Dan Onorato, Allegheny County chief executive, noted that Pittsburgh lost all its direct flights to Europe. US Airways now uses its hub in Philadelphia for nearly all it European flights.

US Airways also has been cutting jobs in the region.

More than 800 reservations employees in the region lost their jobs when the airline consolidated four reservations centers in Pennsylvania and North Carolina into one in Winston-Salem, N.C. Earlier this year, it also trimmed 80 specialty maintenance shop positions.

Pittsburgh International was built for $1 billion, largely to the specifications of US Airways. It opened in 1992 and the construction debt is mostly paid for by the airlines.

Jenny said Southwest, AirTran and Independence Air have all signed contracts until 2018, when the bonds for the airport expire.

''That's a demonstration that our cost isn't too high and that's what US Airways has always said, that our cost was too high,'' Jenny said.

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