Dec. 10--US Airways' "American" journey has come full circle.
The airline that started in Pittsburgh as postal carrier "All American Airways" in 1949 merged with American Airlines on Monday and will become "American" again.
But while Pittsburgh residents might miss the familiar US Airways flag, Pittsburgh International Airport's dominant carrier, many of their memories of the airline are bittersweet.
The airport was essentially built to US Airways' specifications when it opened in 1992. But within a dozen years, the airline had dismantled its giant hub here.
The airline succumbed to bankruptcy in late 2002, a year after 9/11, and went into bankrupcty again in 2004. It started de-hubbing the airport in 2003, slashing flights and jobs because US Airways no longer funneled passengers here to connect to other destinations.
The carriers' daily departures in Pittsburgh peaked at 510 in 2000 when local employment also peaked, at about 11,800. Yet today, the airline operates just 40 daily departures here and employs about 1,800.
With such a mixed heritage, "the US Airways name will be lost from memory" 10 years from now, said veteran money manager and business expert William Lauer, chairman of Allegheny Capital Management Inc., Downtown.
The new American Airlines becomes the world's largest commercial airline by merging the nation's fifth-largest US Airways with third-largest American, which exited bankruptcy on Monday. The new airline will operate 6,700 daily flights to 336 locations in 56 countries and a fleet of 1,511 jets.
American Airlines Group, the parent corporation, is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, where the old American was based.
The merger is just the latest major airline combination, which leaves four airlines in control of about 80 percent of the U.S. air travel market. The last six years witnessed the combinations of United and Continental, Delta and Northwest, and Southwest and AirTran.
Passengers will start to notice small changes in January, said US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher. The two carriers will align benefits of their frequent-flier programs, and US Airways will adopt American's flight numbers.
Whether the deal leads to higher ticket prices -- the issue at the heart of legal challenges from the government and consumer groups -- remains to be seen.
CEO Doug Parker said the merger won't lead to higher airfares because the new American plans to keep all the service offered by American and US Airways.
US Airways will continue to operate under its own name as a subsidiary of American Airlines Group until sometime in 2015. That's when the holding company expects to get Federal Aviation Administration approval to operate as one airline, combining fleets and workforces, Lehmacher said.
"We anticipate that within 18 to 24 months, the US Airways name will be retired," said Lehmacher. But some aircraft may shed the US Airways name earlier.
It's likely US Airways will retire its flight operations controls center in Moon. The $25 million facility, which opened in 2008, is the airline's nerve center, coordinating US Airways' more than 3,000 flights a day systemwide.
The center, which received $4 million in public subsidies, employs about 700 flight dispatchers and crew schedulers and others. But Parker, who has the CEO job at the new American, has said those jobs would relocate to American's larger control center in Dallas. The jobs of 675 workers at US Airways' heavy maintenance facility at Pittsburgh International are more secure. Their International Association of Machinists contract contains job guarantees, and American over the next nine years will take delivery of 260 Airbus aircraft, which the Pittsburgh mechanics are skilled at overhauling.
The best years of US Airways in Pittsburgh are long gone. But over its 64 years, the carrier:
--Knitted together several small regional airlines -- such as Allegheny and Mohawk -- into an East Coast/Midwest flight network by the 1970s.
Airport was on pace through November to post its lowest annual passenger total since opening in 1992.
A four-year-long retrenchment in Pittsburgh has left Charlotte as the largest hub in the US Airways network, with more than 500 daily departures and 121 nonstop destinations.
US AIRWAYS; ENDS FLIGHTS; FROM HERE; TO 5 CITIES JULY CUTS SPELL; 76% DROP-OFF; FROM 2001 FOR; LARGEST CARRIER; AT THE AIRPORT
Pittsburgh International takes another hit