Southwest Could Add Flights After Merger

A US Airways merger with America West Airlines could free up Philadelphia International Airport gates that Southwest Airlines has said would allow it to add to the 50 daily flights it already operates here.

Southwest, the nation's largest discount carrier, has been growing rapidly since it started Philadelphia service in May. The airline rents two gates in Terminal D and four in Terminal E, and Southwest officials have said they would like all of their gates to be on the same concourse.

America West now uses just one gate in Terminal D, where it has five flights a day to its two hubs, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Those operations could be combined with US Airways' much larger presence at the airport.

US Airways, the airport's dominant carrier with almost 500 flights a day, uses 78 gates, including all those in Terminals B and C for its main operations, all those in Terminal F for its Express service, and 11 in the international concourse, Terminal A-West.

For Southwest to have more space in Terminal E, where it also has its ticket counter, Northwest Airlines or Delta Air Lines would have to move operations to another concourse, probably Terminal D.

The airport already is in discussions with the airlines on what will happen to all gates after June 30, 2006, when a 30-year lease-and-use agreement expires with the older airlines - American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways.

City aviation director Charles J. Isdell has said the airport's goal is to replace the long-term leases with shorter, more flexible agreements that would give the facility more control over the gates.

If America West's operations were combined with those of US Airways in Terminal B or C, "it increases the opportunities for the airport to attract more low-cost carriers," said Kevin P. Mitchell, chairman of the Radnor-based Business Travel Coalition advocacy group.