US Airways shifts 130 training jobs to N.C.

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In a continuing drawdown of its local work force, US Airways plans to move 130 flight crew training jobs and equipment from three airport-area buildings to Charlotte, N.C.

Local officials, already upset by the airline's many local pullbacks in recent years and its recent decision to strip Pittsburgh of its hub status, reacted with resignation yesterday.

"As usual, I'm disappointed but it's almost to the point that you expect them not to include Pittsburgh in their future plans," said Allegheny County Airport Authority Director Kent George. "So as the Airport Authority has been doing, we'll continue working to have our facilities set up for life without US Airways as a hub."

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who received the news in a phone call from Chris Chiames, US Airways senior vice president of corporate affairs, said Pittsburgh never had the opportunity to bid to keep the flight training work.

"We're beyond being upset. This is a continuing sign of a company that's downsizing and shrinking. They're doing everything they can to cut costs. They have bigger issues ahead of them if they're going to survive long-term."

Onorato still hopes that Pittsburgh will have the chance to compete to keep maintenance, reservations, and ticketing facilities if US Airways wins $800 million in labor concessions this summer and survives as an airline. He said he has been assured by US Airways Chief Executive Officer Bruce Lakefield that Pittsburgh would have a shot at that work, although a US Airways spokesman said yesterday that "everything is under the microscope."

One exception, perhaps, is the airline's operations control center at RIDC Park West, where US Airways tracks airplanes and handles crew scheduling. Spokesman David Castelveter said there are no "discussions" to move that center out of the Pittsburgh area, nor are there "intentions" to do so.

The cuts announced yesterday are expected to result in as many as 30 direct job losses, Castelveter said, explaining that most of those affected are expected to keep their positions but move or commute to Charlotte.

The airline has cut more than 4,000 local jobs in the past four years, dropping its local employment from almost 13,000 to below 8,000. Some fear employment ultimately could fall as low as 2,500 if the airline survives but shifts most of its non-flight work elsewhere.

The latest cuts affect flight simulator engineers, pilot instructors and flight crew training instructors who work out of a flight simulation center and the Carnot and McCormick schools, all based in Moon. The people who create the curriculum and write the technical publications are not affected by the consolidation and will remain at RIDC Park West. Also, maintenance training now conducted at Carnot will be relocated to a hangar at the airport.

Thousands of flight attendants and pilots come through the Moon training centers each year to fly under simulated conditions and learn how to handle emergencies in the cockpit and cabin. They also spend lots of money at local hotels and restaurants.

"Clearly, it is not just [devastating to] the employees of US Airways, but there will be employees of hotels and other related industries that will suffer as a result of this decision," said Bill Gray, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 547, who represents employees affected by yesterday's announcement.

Gray, disheartened about the decision, blamed local politicians for not doing more to keep the flight training facilities and jobs in Pittsburgh.

"It is unfortunate that the various civic leaders have not been more attentive to this issue," he said. The lack of attention, he said, indicates a "lack of commitment to existing employees and their families by leadership of state and local government."

Gray also predicted that these employees would not be the last to leave. "I suspect that other quality jobs will fly south as well," he said.

The decision to consolidate flight crew training facilities at a large facility in Charlotte, which the company claims will take six months to complete and will save the company $3 million in redundant equipment and costs, comes three months after US Airways decided to put two regional jet simulators in Charlotte instead of Pittsburgh.

That move, and the one announced yesterday, are stoking fears that the airline may renege on its promise to turn Pittsburgh International Airport into a regional jet hub for its MidAtlantic Airways subsidiary. The flight crew training facilities also served crews that are starting to operate the new airline.

US Airways has been slowly pulling back from Pittsburgh since Sept. 11, 2001, eliminating 170 daily flights. Last month, the company said that Pittsburgh would be stripped of its hub status as part of a renewed focus on East Coast flying.

For Pittsburgh, being downgraded to a "focus city" will likely result in fewer flights and nonstop destinations, as well as more job losses. Local officials expect daily flights to drop from 379 to as low as 102, based on US Airways' operations at other "focus" cities, such as Boston, New York and Washington,. D.C.

But airline spokesman David Castelveter said the decision to consolidate flight crew training in Charlotte is "totally unrelated" to Pittsburgh's loss of hub status. "This is about consolidating where you have excess operations," he said. "We have modern, ample space in Charlotte to accommodate all of our needs."


Dan Fitzpatrick can be reached at dfitzpatrick@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1752. Mark Belko can be reached at mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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