News Article - June 25, 2007

Philadelphia mayoral candidate plans airport boost  
  If Michael Nutter becomes mayor of Philadelphia, expect some positive change at Philadelphia International Airport. Think better relations with the airport's neighbors, more international service, more airport gates, and a better process for making upgrades to facilities. That was the message the Democratic candidate wanted to send when he called us last week - unsolicited - to talk about the airport and what he hopes to achieve there if he's elected. We also asked Republican nominee Al Taubenberger his thoughts on the airport.

   Here's thought No. 1 from Nutter: "The airport is critical, not only to the future of the city but to its impact on the region. . . . I think it's pretty obvious there have been a number of challenging situations in airport operations. I'm fully examining all the performance issues out at the airport." So we know he appreciates what a powerful force PHL is, the source of close to 35,000 jobs and $14 billion a year in economic activity in the region, and how its reputation rubs off on the city.

   Something else that's clear to us is that Nutter has already been talking with airlines and suburban politicians. He wants to find common ground with political leaders of South Jersey, Delaware County and, especially, Tinicum Township, where two-thirds of the airport's city-owned land is situated. County residents are concerned about aircraft noise and other effects of proximity to the airport. They are opposed to an FAA plan to use new takeoff paths over residential areas, and they want to know what Tinicum can expect if an additional runway is built along the Delaware as a way to reduce flight delays. While Nutter said he wants to work with suburban politicians, he also said: "It's critically important we improve our takeoff and arrival times, given our current record." Our thought: If reducing delays without having an impact on the neighbors were easy, it would have been done years ago.

   Nutter said increasing international service will be another priority for him because of its ability to increase tourism and promote overseas trade. He said he would like to see direct flights to Africa from PHL (perhaps the longest of long-shot dreams), as well as the routes to Asia and additional service to Europe that US Airways seeks. The airport also needs to resolve the disagreement it's had with US Airways involving use of gates in Terminal A-East for domestic flights, Nutter said. US Airways continues to complain that it's hamstrung by the airport's decision to move Delta to A-East from Terminal E, so Southwest can expand its domestic service. As for baggage, Nutter said: "We need US Airways to resolve the baggage-handling issues at the airport. My understanding is, some improvements have been made, but more needs to be done."

   One more area that Nutter says needs work is how efficiently the city handles requests for things like construction permits and installation of new equipment. That's another issue that frustrates US Airways' people, from baggage handlers up to the CEO. In his call, one question Nutter did not want to address was this: Does the mayoral front-runner want a new airport boss to replace Mayor Street's appointee, Charles J. Isdell? Nutter said he will answer that question only after the election in November. So if he wins, plan on us asking again.

   Taubenberger, who ran unopposed this spring in the Republican mayoral primary, also has been thinking about the importance of the airport in the regional economy. Like Nutter, Taubenberger said he supports US Airways' plans to add more international flights here. The GOP candidate said job growth in the city was a key plank in his platform, and, while each new overseas flight would add only a few jobs, the service will help international trade. Because US Airways uses PHL as a hub, he said, the city should help US Airways get as many airport gates as it needs. He was familiar with US Airways' objections to moving Delta into Terminal A-East to free up space in Terminal E for Southwest.

   "There's no doubt Southwest has helped," he said. "But Southwest . . . is not the hub airline here. . . . Southwest does not have international flights. It's more of a commuter and leisure airline." Taubenberger said he wants members of Congress from the region to fight to help clear more air space for flights in and out of Philadelphia. Flights to and from airports in the New York and Washington areas have a higher priority to air-traffic controllers than do flights here, he said.

   But he said he needed to do more study before he expresses an opinion about the FAA's airspace redesign plan for the Philadelphia and New York areas, which is designed to reduce air-traffic delays and is opposed by some political leaders in Delaware County and South Jersey. If Taubenberger becomes mayor, he said, he would ask Charles J. Isdell to continue as city aviation director. "He has done a good job under difficult circumstances," he said.

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer