|By Ely Portillo, The Charlotte Observer,
N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 07, 2012--Charlotte restaurant and hotel operators are concerned about the effects a proposed merger of US Airways and American Airlines could have on the local economy and Charlotte's status as a major hub airport.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker has said the airline's hub at Charlotte Douglas International Airport is safe whether a merger happens or not. Parker has made the same pledge to US Airways' other major hubs, in Phoenix and Philadelphia, to try to allay local leaders' worries.
But in a letter sent Tuesday to Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx, the Charlotte Chapter of the NC Restaurant and Lodging Association expressed unease about the prospect of post-merger cuts at Charlotte Douglas. They're asking Foxx and other elected leaders for a pledge from US Airways to maintain its Charlotte hub.
Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways operates more than 600 daily flights at Charlotte Douglas, about 90 percent of the airport's total. The company also has more than 7,100 employees based here, as well as major maintenance and training facilities. Charlotte Douglas is the busiest hub for US Airways.
Travelers, visiting crews, and those employees based here add significantly to the hospitality industry's strength in Charlotte, the group said. "Even a small round of flight cuts would remove millions of dollars from our bottom lines. This would lead to job loss and devastate our economy," the group letter said.
The Restaurant and Lodging Association points to the example of Pittsburgh, which lost its hub status after US Airways and America West merged in 2005. The city lost hundreds of daily flights following the combination.
"If US Airways is in any way ambiguous about its post-merger intentions for our airport, we urge you to oppose the move. Until we know exactly how the merger would affect our community, it would be imprudent to endorse it," said the letter, signed by local hotel and restaurant operators.
Parker has said that if US Airways and American merger, Charlotte would fill a crucial spot as a connecting hub for American's east-west traffic, as well as north-south traffic on the East Coast. He told the Observer he believes the merged airline would operate more than 700 flights at Charlotte Douglas within a few years. The merged company would retain the American Airlines name and be headquartered in Fort Worth, American's current home.
US Airways has been courting American's parent company, AMR Corp., since the airline entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year. Although AMR chief executive Tom Horton has said American will consider a merger, he has also said American should emerge from bankruptcy as a standalone company.
A combination of US Airways and American, the fifth- and third-largest airlines in the U.S., would create the nation's largest airline.
Portillo: 704-358-5041 On Twitter @ESPortillo
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