Analyst: If airline leaves, void won’t easily be filled
Allegheny County leaders are mistaken in thinking new airlines would flock to Pittsburgh International Airport if US Airways ultimately shut down its hub at the Findlay facility, a US Airways-commissioned analyst warned Wednesday.
Aviation analyst Brian Campbell responded to criticisms of a report US Airways hired him to generate that predicted dire times for the airport and region if the carrier shut down its hub, which it has threatened if its annual debt costs at the airport are not lowered.
Among the sticking points was Campbell’s finding that discount airlines would not pick up many of the flights vacated by US Airways, which a county-supported analysis called “not credible.”
“It’s highly unlikely you’ll see any material amount of low-fare service,” said Campbell, of the Campbell-Hill Aviation Group, based in Arlington, Va.
Campbell’s study assumes America West Airlines would add service to Las Vegas and AirTran Airways would add daily flights to Atlanta and Orlando. However, Campbell concluded that other discount giants, like Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways, would not add any flights in US Airways’ absence.
The disputed point was one of several identified in a two-page analysis of the airline’s economic report embraced by county Chief Executive Jim Roddey, who would not identify its author.
“We believe it’s accurate,” he said.
US Airways deferred comment on the county’s analysis of the airline’s report to Campbell, said spokesman David Castelveter.
Roddey and Allegheny County Airport Authority board members say other airlines would fill in some of the holes left by US Airways. Roddey would not say more yesterday.
The local analysis said the findings in Campbell’s report were “unrealistic and not credible,” suggesting the airline drastically overstated the economic impact, the decline in passengers, and wrongly concluded fares would rise.
The US Airways report does not take into consideration the negative impact that the airline’s high fares have on passengers who find it cheaper to drive to another city to get lower air fares. The airline’s report also does not address the negative impact the closure of the hub would have on US Airways, the county report states.
However, Campbell reaffirmed his findings yesterday.
“I really don’t find anything to agree with them on,” Campbell said. “There was no real substance or analysis behind their comments. When you do some analysis, I think you’ll find they’re dead wrong.”
Campbell said the lack of competition on many key routes would lead to higher average fares and the airport would suffer from the loss of nearly all connecting traffic now generated by the airline’s hub.
Campbell said his study was based on models accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration.
The county and state are considering the airline’s demand for a $500 million debt reduction at Pittsburgh International. That came in response to Gov. Ed Rendell’s offer of $263.9 million in incentives and improvements at two of its hubs in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
The airline presented Campbell’s economic impact analysis to the state’s negotiating team last week. The report states that the regional economy will lose $1.8 billion a year and 17,000 jobs if it closes its Pittsburgh hub.
The airline wants the county to restructure $673 million in debt at Pittsburgh International, which, in turn, would reduce US Airways’ cost to do business there and entice the airline to keep its local hub.