News Article - July 04, 2008

  Passengers traveling from Philadelphia International Airport after Labor Day will be spared the deep cuts in flight schedules that some other cities will see as airlines grapple with soaring fuel costs. Published airline schedules for October show domestic flights and seat capacity here will be reduced less than 2 percent, compared with October 2007.

   "Philadelphia will lose 1.8 percent seat capacity in October compared to a year ago," said deputy aviation director James M. Tyrrell. "If you look at the other airports, some of them got whacked pretty good. Orlando, Las Vegas, Chicago - they are all double-digit" cuts. By year's end, 100 small airports, including three in Pennsylvania - Lancaster, DuBois and Franklin - will not have regular commercial-airline service. And the number could double by early next year, according to the Air Transport Association, the airline-industry trade group.

   Philadelphia is fortunate because a lot of flights originate and end here; the city attracts business and leisure travelers; it's an international gateway to Europe and the Caribbean; and it's a hub for US Airways Group Inc. Systemwide, US Airways, which transports two-thirds of Philadelphia passengers, plans capacity cuts this year of 6 percent to 8 percent. Most of the initial cuts will be in Las Vegas and Phoenix. In Philadelphia, US Airways is cutting less than 1 percent of flights.

   "Philadelphia is basically losing 20 flights a week - that's it," said airline spokesman Philip Gee. "Most of these changes are very small. A lot of flights are not being affected." US Airways had 2,898 flights per week in October 2007 and will have 2,878 this October. US Airways will eliminate, starting in October, flights from Philadelphia to two destinations: Charleston, W.Va., and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

   US Airways petitioned the Department of Transportation to discontinue five daily flights between Philadelphia and Williamsport, Pa. The federal agency is expected to deny the request, Williamsport airport executive director Thomas Hart said. US Airways is Williamsport's only commercial carrier, and residents there do not live close to another airport. As of Oct. 1, US Airways will reduce frequency of flights from Philadelphia to 45 cities and will increase the frequency of flights to 38 others, Gee said.

   Los Angeles; San Francisco; Dayton, Ohio; Chicago; and Boston all will get additional flights. Jacksonville, Fla.; Salisbury, Md.; Ithaca and Newburgh, N.Y.; Kansas City, Mo.; Ottawa, Canada; and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., will get one fewer flight once a day or a couple of times a week, Gee said. The schedule is not 100 percent final, and there could "still be a few more [minor] adjustments," he said. US Airways plans to cut an additional 7 percent to 9 percent of domestic flights and seats next year. However, labor agreements prevent drastic reductions in US Airways' fleet size, officials said.

   Other major carriers - American, United and Delta - have announced capacity cuts in the range of 10 percent to 14 percent. In Philadelphia, there will be some reduced flight frequencies, but not significant reductions. AirTran Holdings Inc. has already eliminated its Philadelphia-to-Boston service because of fuel costs, and this summer, it suspended Tampa and Fort Lauderdale flights. No word on whether those fights will return. AirTran will continue flights to Atlanta and Orlando, but with fewer departures. Northwest Airlines Corp. plans as of Oct. 1 to eliminate a daily flight from Philadelphia to Indianapolis.

   United will fly once a day to Los Angeles from Philadelphia, instead of twice, starting in September. Otherwise, all flights will remain the same. Continental Airlines Inc. is adding four daily flights to Newark, N.J. American will cut one flight a day to Dallas; make two of its six roundtrips to Chicago on a smaller American Eagle plane; and go from five to three American Eagle flights a day to St. Louis. Delta Air Lines Inc. will trim its flights to Salt Lake City from 12 to 10 a week; retain the same service to Atlanta and Cincinnati; and keep 37 daily flights to Boston, up from 18 in January. Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc. will cut its Denver service from two flights a day to one starting in September.

   Southwest Airlines Co., Philadelphia's second-largest carrier, is not making capacity cuts, but will adjust its seasonal schedule starting Nov. 2. Southwest will eliminate one flight to Pittsburgh and one to Orlando, and add a daily flight to Tampa Bay. Starting Sept. 3, US Airways will eliminate direct flights to Pittsburgh from Harrisburg, but will add an extra daily flight from Harrisburg to Philadelphia.

   At $135 a barrel for oil, Wall Street analysts say, the airline industry needs to shrink 20 percent to 22 percent. "All the cuts that have been announced recently for this fall add up to 12 [percent] to 13 percent," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Radnor-based Business Travel Coalition. Crude oil for August delivery settled at $143.57 a barrel yesterday. Airlines will keep close tabs on the oil price this month and next and will "probably make some more difficult decisions around Labor Day," Mitchell said. "There are probably more cuts coming." If oil prices rise to $150 to $170 a barrel, as some analysts have predicted, every airport will see more impact, including all major hubs, Mitchell said. Since December, eight small carriers have gone out of business, and two others filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

   Some air service is gone as a result of carriers' going out of business, including Air Midwest Inc., a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group Inc., said Air Transport Association vice president of communications David Castelveter. In other cases, airlines pared back schedules because of high fuel costs. "One hundred cities were victim to those cutbacks. If fuel prices continue to rise, that number could more than double by the first quarter of 2009," Castelveter said. "It's hard to fathom 200 cities that will have no service. But when you have a fuel bill that's $61 billion for this year, up $20 billion from last year, you can't make that up in fare increases and 'a la carte' pricing," he said.

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer