Friday, January 24, 2014

Bashing USAirways

For everyone who feels this innate urge to bash USAirways...    the story is so much more convoluted than it is portrayed. For many many years, USAir was clear about what it thought of the plan foisted upon it to upgrade the terminal at the airport. Don't believe me? May 25, 1984:


Blogger Vannevar said...

Further, regarding the specific office being closed. When USAir acquired Piedmont in 1989 the plan was to move the Flight Ops Center to Charlotte, because the City of Charlotte had offered tremendous incentives and North Carolina was a right-to-work state, and the Piedmont work force was much more compliant.

USAirways offered the folks at the Pittsburgh complex to move to CLT< but very few of them agreed to go, preferring not to.

Then a big winter storm came. A normal winter storm that turns into NonStandardOps and leaves airplanes and crews scattered in the wrong places, and "somehow" you need to turn the chaos into a dance that realigns with the schedule efficiently. It's an art, not a science.

Turns out the southern ops center in Charlotte didn't have any artists and couldn't put a northern-tier schedule back together again after a snow event. "Sorry, yall, but there just ain't no Humpty Dumpty magic down here".

So USAiways knew it had a problem. They went to PA and cajoled incentives for a new facility in Moon, and "conceded" to keep those jobs in Moon.

It's been 24 years those jobs lasted on that reprieve.

The next chapter, of course, is that in AA's purchase of USAir, Charlotte is the next Pittsburgh, being redundant now.

Saturday, January 25, 2014 9:18:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

But of course ultimately they did sign the leases, and then did break them in bankruptcy. There is plenty of blame to go around for that, including local officials (and Al Qaeda for that matter), but USAir did voluntarily participate in the end and therefore shares responsibility.

But I do think there is not much point being mad at USAir. Rather, we should just learn our lesson, which is that silver-bullet economic development plans which count on long-term partnerships with for-profit entities operating in competitive industries are generally not a great idea.

Monday, January 27, 2014 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

They USAir eventually sign the new lease, but it wasn't until 1988 actually... after the county had actually begun construction of the new terminal at the airport.

Even more remarkable, the county went ahead with construction even after Carl Ichan tried to back a TWA purchase of USAir the year before. What would that have meant to the once and future hub here? ...TWA itself having its own future implosion.

Anyway, those reading this probably don't need the comment... but as remarkable as the headline is in that 1984 article, the actual quotes in there are far more telling. Worth reading.

Monday, January 27, 2014 10:57:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

It is certainly true that the County initiated the renovation process before USAir finally signed all of its deals, although as I recall they were in negotiations for much of 1986 and 1987. I also was slightly oversimplifying--I believe they actually signed a financing deal first in 1987, then the leases. That said, I think the County would likely have continued the airport renovation in some form even if USAir had refused to sign these deals.

However, once USAir was supportive of the project, it participated in setting the specifications for the new terminal, which in turn contributed to the ever-increasing cost of the project:

"The price tag for the midfield terminal, which opened on Oct. 1, 1992, started at $289 million and soared to $1 billion, including accompanying infrastructure, before all was said and done. Many increases were the result of changes requested by USAir and other airlines. Colodny said there were very few actual cost overruns. When the county broke ground on the terminal in 1987, 62 gates were contemplated, with the ability to add more. Sixteen years later, the airport has 100 gates, including 22 for commuter planes. US Airways leases all of the commuter gates and 50 of the other 78 for mainline flights."

And according to some officials, USAir also crowded out other airlines from possibly having a larger role in financing/leasing:

"There were few dissenting voices, but one of them was Dr. Wecht, a Democrat who did not oppose the project but who raised concerns about tying midfield's fortunes to one airline. He was out of office by the time the county finalized the deal to build the terminal. "I don't think it was a mistake to build it. I think it was a mistake not to have sought out one or two other airlines to develop or expand their routes out of Pittsburgh," he said. "I was in favor of knocking on other doors and seeing what could be done."

Barbara Hafer, a former Republican commissioner who signed the agreement to build the terminal in 1988, said she also was uneasy about that aspect of the deal but didn't believe the county had much choice. She said US Airways insisted on being top dog at midfield. "We really probably didn't have at that point any other options, but I really felt we were putting all of our eggs in one basket," she said."

So again, it is definitely useful to point out the County was not just an innocent victim of USAir's machinations. On the other hand, USAir certainly does not have clean hands either, and in particular the initial reluctance they showed back in 1984 doesn't change the role they played in subsequent years, once they decided to support, and influence, the project.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 1:29:00 PM  

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