PSA's Future Takes Flight With New Jets

May 21--The only airline based in Dayton is getting bigger.

Today, PSA Airlines will unveil for the first time the new Bombardier CRJ900 NextGen jet, an example of new planes the company will use to grow.

The airline calls the new 76-seat plane a "top-tier" regional travel choice, with first-class cabins, wi-fi and more. The planes are meant to replace smaller, less efficient 50-seat regional planes.

PSA's growth plans include more than new planes. Keith Houk, PSA's president, and Dion Flannery, the company's president-designate, confirmed that the airline is in talks with the city on an expansion at Dayton International Airport. That expansion could extend training and maintenance at Dayton International.

A wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines Group, PSA could add 42 new employees to the 600 the airline already has in Dayton. PSA has 1,400 employees nationwide.

More planes means more pilots, flight attendants and maintenance personnel.

"The reality is we are in discussions with the airport and with Terry Slaybaugh (Dayton's aviation director)," Flannery said in an exclusive interview at PSA's 3400 Terminal Drive headquarters. Flannery is slated to lead PSA after Houk's retirement this summer.

PSA -- which also has maintenance bases at Charlotte, N.C. and Akron -- is hiring at a torrid pace. With its fleet expansion, current pilot hiring rates are 40 new hires a month for the company nationally. That is expected to continue through 2014, the company said.

Six-week training for new pilots happens in Dayton. Four-week flight attendant training also happens here.

"We built on to the (PSA) learning center last year," Flannery said. "And we have filled it up with new-hire pilots and flight attendants beautifully."

Slaybaugh said PSA's expansion is about more than jobs. It's about giving business and leisure travelers more flight opportunities.

It's also about revenue for the city. Today, PSA brings five planes in every evening to Dayton for overnight maintenance. Those planes leave every morning as revenue flights, Slaybaugh said.

"That's a real important thing that I don't think a lot of people recognize," he said.

The next steps for the airline include taking possession of the new CRJ900s over the next 12 months and building a new operations center.

The city has not yet inked a deal with PSA, but there has been progress in talks on an operations center, Slaybaugh said. PSA will track and communicate with its planes at the new center, which would be a 7,500-square-foot facility, Slaybaugh said.

The sides also are making progress on discussing a new maintenance facility, which potentially would be a bigger project, Slaybaugh said. More planes maintained at Dayton International would mean more flights from the airport, he said.

The final question for PSA before deciding whether to expand: Is Dayton "sustainably economic?" as Flannery put it.

Houk and Flannery believe so. A new 10-year contract deal reached last year with PSA's pilots helps Dayton chances, Houk said. PSA also has a history in Dayton stretching back to the mid-1980s.

"There's a lot of ground that has been laid to get to this point," Houk said.

Added Flannery, "We're not done with those discussions. They're continuing."

Earlier this month, a committee of local leaders recommended that Montgomery County Commission approve a $500,000 development grant to Dayton to help persuade PSA to go forward with an expansion.

That grant counts in the company's consideration.

"Any means to defray costs, to make it more attractive from an investment perspective, absolutely it does," Flannery said.

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