Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How low can USAirways employment go?

So here is a headline running now: "US Airways to lay off 600, but none in Pittsburgh".

I first wondered.. does US Airways have 600 employees in Pittsburgh in total. The article says they are at around 2,100 locally. Remember this was once the largest private employer in the region depending on what you count. A great headline circa 2000: Jobs, flights in Pittsburgh protected in US Airways sale .

Think about that. The focus of most all job growth efforts immediately following the collapse of steel employment was all centered around the USAir hub operation at the airport. And for the most part all of that is entirely defunct.

Put this in context of the whole Pittsburgh story of late, resilience and restructuring and all of that. It's not just that steel went away and we rebuilt. We dug the hole deeper at some points. Lots to overcome between the early 80's and now.

But here is the real question. There was a time when everyone argued that the availability of flights was by far the most important competitive factor for the region. So now we have a recent history that goes almost the opposite. As flights from Pittsburgh have collapsed, the Pittsburgh story has gotten a whole lot brighter. I DO NOT imply any causality like that for the record. But what was equally baseless was the causality many just assumed went the other way.


Anonymous MH said...

Your last two sentences sort of sum-up my view of Richard Florida's work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 2:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Jake said...

They job losses are almost equivalent to the population loss in Braddock (in a much shorter time). They need to find a John Fetterman to revitalize the airport.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 2:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You cheerleaders must open your eyes. There are people out there continuously STUCK IN THE PAST. There is a nut job set up every week and at the four seasons flea market selling his book about Jim trafficant, touting the fact that they're going to have a parade for Jimbo when he returns
we will be the laughingstock of the country

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 3:35:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I usually delete spam like that, but that comment is so curious I will leave it be for the moment.

Not to make this into a RF debate, but AgentSka has a post reminding me of a video I once found. Still the funniest Youtube I have ever seen: Creatives raise better in the Southest.

I call it: Soylent Green meets Rich Florida.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 4:29:00 PM  
Blogger Infinonymous said...

I continue to believe that flight availability is an important factor for Pittsburgh's economy. How has the Pittsburgh story brightened? Still losing population. Some shiny baubles, all purchased on credit. Insolvent city. Entire region facing daunting infrastructure costs. Moribund economy in which much of the "development" has involved making one layer of retail obsolete and replacing it at public expense, and nearly all development has required public subsidy. Many of the young people, especially those most worth keeping, depart for good reason.

The region has many fine attributes, and I believe it could shine if it would simply stop self-inflicting wounds, but I don't see much brightening. Treading water, perhaps.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 4:48:00 PM  
Blogger Vannevar said...

There's a few issues re the original post - USAirways as an operational entity, PIT as an airport, PIT as a Pittsburgh economic engine.

One if USAir(ways) as an operational entity. They've contracted out everything they can. When you buy a ticket from USAir, they've got D-scalers from shell companies delivering on the promise.

Look at Continental at Buffalo, God Rest Their Souls. I think when people buy a ticket on Continental, Ma & Pa Kettle figure they're getting an airline pilot with a skill set that justifies more than $18K per year. What they got was two rookies with neither the training or experience needed, neither of which got a good night's sleep. It was the commuter outfit that crashed the plane, but all those fatalities had bought tickets from Continental.

Look at ValuJet in the Everglades. Untrained, short-staffed sub-sub-contractors put oxygen generators in the hold. This would not have happened at a "real airline".

USAir is a brand. When you buy a ticket from them, you're mostly getting a logo and a subcontractor on at least one leg. The contract airlines are almost as good, most of the time. But when you get to non-standard operations (snow), there's not enough legacy system to keep the thing from falling apart. USAir provides scheduling, marketing, ticketing, and a focus for when things go wrong.

PIT as an airport is pretty much Post-USAir. The schedule is diversified among the airlines. Also, the schedule is reduced to the point where it's driven by Pittsburgh O&D traffic, so anything else that USAirways cuts, somebody else is likely to pick up. Also, the new legislation points more money at EAS (essential air service), so we may pick something up there.

PIT as an airport has two main assets: a great terminal and four great under-utilized runways. Those things don't erode quickly. They're precious commodities, and someday when somebody figures out the finances, they'll get used again.

Finally, PIT as an economic engine for Pittsburgh. PIT is declining, Pittsburgh is advancing. It's a multivariable problem. Would we be better off with 600 flights/day? Sure. Will Pittsburgh grow with our current airport service? Sure. Would we like more flights? Yes, yes, please.

Sorry it went so long. Cheers,

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 5:02:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

There is a great graphic out there on how low cost air carriers do what they do.. I assume you have seen it. If not I need to go find it, its been reposting all around, but is pretty cool info-graphic explaining the economics of low cost airlines.

sure.. no doubt. More flights=good. But how strong the translation to economic growth or decline is the leap. I remember when folks were sure the runway availability would be a boon for us as east coast airspace got ever too dense to support.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 5:13:00 PM  
Blogger Eric Williams said...

So many seem to be stuck on adorning the city with flashy things like a world-class airport and state-of-the-art stadiums. "If you build it, they will come," we are told. I have a better idea. Let's get back to the basics of maintaining a well-run city with low taxes and other incentives to new businesses and residents. I'd rather see the city scale back to pre-steel size and significance (with the hope of rebuilding at a sustainable pace) than go broke trying to lure people with "shiny baubles". Sure, if you tax people to death you can fund lots of public projects, but you'll eventually run out of other people's money and ultimately drive out the people whose backs you stood on to build your Shangri-La.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 7:15:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Again... geography matters. is that last comment refering to the city, the county or the region. All of the above? See my earlier post on the number of jobs in the city of Pittsburgh.

pre-steel for most of the region would mean mid 19th century.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 8:45:00 AM  
Blogger Eric Williams said...

I suppose I'd like to see every city and every county in every region run efficiently, within budget, and frugally. ;)

By "pre-steel" I meant that in order to survive and rebuild for a lasting future, it may be necessary to consider losing national prominence and shrinking significantly. Contrary to federal propaganda, debt does not create wealth. I think it's time to spend less and save more.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 9:33:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken Zapinski said...

Why is it that when people talk about “air service” at PIT, the only thing they focus on is the number of flights?

Even as US Airways was slashing and burning, more people used Pittsburgh International Airport to fly to and from the region (i.e., O&D, not connecting) in 2004 than any previous year. The airport broke that passenger record in 2005. And 2006. And again in 2007. And PIT was on pace to set another record last year before air traffic dropped sharply late in the year because of the recession. So, even as the number of flights has dropped, more people than ever before have used the airport to get to and from Pittsburgh.

Why? No major metro airport has seen its prices drop more since 2000 than PIT (

So maybe air connectivity – as measured by the number of people who actually use the airport as opposed to the number of planes available to fly them somewhere – does have an impact on the region’s economic health. Those passengers who are setting the O&D records are sales people flying off to see customers, joint venture partners coming here to do business with Pittsburgh companies, and tourists coming to bring their dollars to the region.

And thanks to the growth of low-cost carriers such as Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue, there are significant areas where air service is better now than ever before, no matter how you measure it – specifically, to the important business markets of New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Boston. Thanks to competition, those markets have more service at a lower price than ever before.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 9:57:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Ken, it's an odd comment considering who 'everyone' once was. I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you at all.. but when the number of flights were high and costs were also relatively high everyone Downtown would try and make the exact opposite argument. I gave one telling news reference on that, but it was pretty ubiquitous. Can't have it both ways can we?

So if we could have a veil of ignorance on what is the best thing: high # flights/higher cost or low # flights/lower cost.. where would we want to be. Is there research supporting teh idea that economic growth is enhanced by either of those options over the other? Not that that tradeoff is that simple either of coursem but that would be the hypothesis.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 10:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Ken Zapinski said...

I'm not aware of any research on that particular subject. The particular optimization point between the two variables probably varies depending on a region's demand profile.

I think my last point may have gotten lost:

As a result of the transition, PIT now has a high # of flights & lower costs to the most important business destinations for SW PA business (Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.) And when Independence Air was flying to Dulles, that list included Washington DC. So, by whatever measure, if you're a business that predominantly needs to travel to those cities, the airport is doing a better job than ever before.

On the other hand, if you're a business that needs to travel regularly to Birmingham, San Diego, or Savanah, not so much.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Arsenal said...

"@MH said...
Your last two sentences sort of sum-up my view of Richard Florida's work."

MH, I love it.

One thing to keep in mind is that air travel as a whole is a declining industry, and we should thank USAir for making us learn to live without them before they go out of business entirely.

When oil gets into the $500/barrel range most Americans won't be flying anywhere, so I think focusing on airlines as a necessary part of economic success is doomed.

My main reservation is that one thing that makes PGH a great city is its cosmopolitan, diverse, 'big-city' feel (in terms of institutions, transit, political openness, etc), despite its small-town size, geography, population, and cost of living. Whether a city that is this geographically isolated can maintain that in an increasingly insular post-petrol world remains to be seen... Fingers crossed though, as it has made it work in spades so far.

Thursday, July 16, 2009 1:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please Vanevar, I'm scared enough of flying as it is!

A couple of personal observations: My employer would probably conduct a meeting a year in Pittsburgh if we were still a hub. As it is, no one wants to connect to come here, so we always have meetings in Chicago or D.C.; I have five trips to Scranton this summer and was shocked to find no direct flights, so I'm driving; my family and I flew to Maine for vacation last month. No direct flights to Portland. Connected on the way in Cleveland. We're seriously considering driving to Cleveland next vacation to avoid connections.

Spin it however you want Ken. Nice airport, crummy flying experience.

Monday, July 20, 2009 9:25:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Back before I lived in Pittsburgh, I had a boss who would fly to Pittsburgh about once every six months, but never leave the airport. A bunch of people would just fly to Pittsburgh, meet at the airport and fly back. My thinking was 'why not a conference call?"

Monday, July 20, 2009 9:48:00 AM  

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