News Article - November 14, 2007

  US Airways backed away yesterday from its threat to give up plans to fly between Philadelphia and China starting in 2009, saying it would honor a request from Mayor-elect Michael Nutter to delay a decision until he has a chance to study the situation. In a statement, the airline said Nutter had asked officials to "refrain from taking action" on the China route.

   Nutter spoke to US Airways Group Inc. chief executive officer Doug Parker by phone last week, asking him "to rethink stopping the China route," Nutter spokeswoman Melanie Johnson said. Nutter is "very thankful and appreciative" that the airline honored the request, Johnson said. US Airways contends that it will not have enough gates at Philadelphia International Airport to operate daily flights to Beijing and other international service if the airport allows Delta Air Lines Inc. to move into gates in Terminal A-East from Terminal E.

   Delta's move, which also will give Southwest Airlines Co. more gates in Terminal E, is scheduled to take place late tonight and early tomorrow. Delta asked for the move to save money and to improve its customer service, Delta officials have said. Terminal A-East has been used for both domestic and overseas flights since it opened in 1991. US Airways officials say it should be reserved for international service because of a shortage of gates at the airport in the summer to operate its 20 daily flights to Europe.

   US Airways executives first raised objections to the plan to move Delta 18 months ago, and recently proposed alternatives that airport director Charles J. Isdell says are unworkable. The airline's executives said in the statement that "we remain committed" to expanding international service in Philadelphia, its second-biggest hub after Charlotte, N.C.

   "We have told Mayor-elect Nutter that we won't make any decisions in the short term about our China application or other potential changes in service until he and his team have an opportunity to evaluate options that would meet the dual goals of expanded domestic gate capacity for new domestic service and dedicated gates to allow US Airways to jointly grow Philadelphia as an international hub," the statement said. Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.), who complained bitterly last week that US Airways' threat sounded like extortion, had not heard from the airline on its retreat, a spokesman for Specter said last night.

   Southwest, which now uses eight gates in Terminals D and E, said the switch would give it one more gate next spring, in time to start nonstop flights to three new cities. Southwest plans to occupy 13 gates once the airport completes a planned expansion of Terminal E. Southwest is the second-largest airline at the airport. US Airways occupies 68 of the airport's 120 gates. It had access to 17 more gates for international flights at the peak of last summer's travel season.

Source - Philadelphia Inquirer