Pittsburgh could come up short in US Airways-American merger

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The settlement that cleared the way for the US Airways-American Airlines merger may not be as generous to Pittsburgh International Airport in terms of flights as Allegheny County first touted.

Todd Lehmacher, a US Airways spokesman, said Wednesday that the county mischaracterized how much service is guaranteed to remain in place at the airport under the deal.

In a press release and interviews Tuesday, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said the airlines' settlement with the U.S. Justice Department and the attorneys general in six states, including Pennsylvania, would guarantee that the carriers would keep the same level of service at Pittsburgh International for five years.

But Mr. Lehmacher said that is not the case.

What the settlement promises, as it relates to Pennsylvania, is that the new airline, to be called American, will continue to provide daily scheduled service from one or more of its hubs to each airport in the state currently served by either American or US Airways, he said.

"We have not guaranteed a number of flights," he said, adding that the county's characterization "is inconsistent with the agreement and what was in the press release."

Mr. Fitzgerald said he was "going by what the attorney general indicated" in speaking about the settlement's impact on Pittsburgh.

He said that he hadn't seen all of the details of the agreement.

In her press release, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, one of the parties to the settlement, said the deal "will guarantee the operation of a hub in Philadelphia for three years, and continued service for five years at every airport in Pennsylvania currently served by both airlines."

Joe Peters, Ms. Kane's spokesman, acknowledged that the agreement does not guarantee that the new airline will maintain current levels of service at Pittsburgh or other airports in the state.

But he added the practical effect is that those flights likely will be maintained at those levels because of the deal's requirement that the new airline maintain its hubs in Philadelphia, Charlotte, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, and Phoenix for three years.

US Airways and American have, on average, a combined 57 daily departures from Pittsburgh , far more than any other airline.

The only market where both fly to is New York -- US Airways to LaGuardia and American to John F. Kennedy International.

William Lauer, an Allegheny Capital Inc. principal who has followed the airline industry for years, said he would be surprised if the new airline cut flights from Pittsburgh, noting that there is little duplication in routes right now.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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