US Airways is disputing a claim by two local congressmen that a heavy maintenance base at Pittsburgh International Airport could be "shuttered" next year as a result of the carrier's merger with American Airlines.
U.S. Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, made the claim in an April 8 letter to US Airways CEO Doug Parker in which they also raised concerns about the potential loss of the US Airways operations control center in Moon.
Combined, the two facilities employ more than 1,600 people.
In a written response to the congressmen's concerns, Thomas Chapman, US Airways vice president of government affairs, said, "No decision has been made on the future status of any of our facilities located in Pittsburgh or elsewhere."
That includes, his letter read, the heavy maintenance base, which primarily services narrow-body Airbus jets and has a lease that runs through 2015. Mr. Chapman said no decision has been made on whether to extend the lease.
Mr. Doyle said concerns about the maintenance base being closed in 2014 came as a result of conversations with US Airways officials who indicated American and US Airways could begin consolidating operations in as little as 18 months, depending on when the U.S. Justice Department approves the merger.
While US Airways never flatly stated in the discussions that the Pittsburgh maintenance base would close, Mr. Doyle said it didn't take much reading between the lines to conclude the base was in jeopardy. He said airline officials talked about consolidating operations and mentioned that American has a large maintenance base in Tulsa, Okla.
"They didn't say, 'Pittsburgh, you're out,' but they didn't say, 'Pittsburgh, you're in.' They said they're going to make a decision," he said.
As a result of the discussions, Mr. Doyle said he and Mr. Murphy had "serious concerns" about the future of the maintenance and operation centers in Pittsburgh.
"I think it's only prudent that we look at the worst case scenario because we're not being given any assurance by US Airways that they're going to keep the operations or maintenance centers here," he said.
Concerns over the operations center reached a fever pitch late last month after Mr. Parker said during a meeting with pilots that, "If we were betting right now, it's only fair to tell people that, you know, Dallas has a bigger [operations] center, and [it's] more likely than not" that employees would move there.
Mr. Chapman spent part of his letter dispelling the congressmen's claims that the Pittsburgh center was largely built with taxpayers' dollars.
State and county officials extended a $16.5 million aid package in order to win the competition for the center over Charlotte, N.C., and Phoenix, but US Airways has said only a small portion of that money was actually used.
US Airways said it did not accept a $12.5 million government loan because it did not qualify for the financing. The company ended up taking about $3 million in state grants and $750,000 in state tax credits tied to the number of jobs created by the project. Including supporting facilities, the center, which opened less than five years ago, ended up costing $32 million, or $7 million more than the original estimate.
Mr. Chapman told the congressmen he believes the merger will yield substantial benefits for the state. "Still, we realize that as the two airlines integrate into one, some factors do not favor Pittsburgh. We want those with a stake in our Pittsburgh presence to understand the factors that will drive our decisions," he wrote.
Mr. Doyle described the airline's response as "disappointing but not unexpected."
Amy Larkin, press secretary to Mr. Murphy, said the congressman is reviewing the letter from Mr. Chapman.
However, she added there are concerns about the ability of American Airlines' control center in Dallas to handle operations for what would become the world's largest airline. Ms. Larkin said Pittsburgh has the capability to do that with its flight center and an experienced workforce.
Mr. Doyle said federal, state and local officials are continuing to meet to develop strategies to keep both facilities. If that fails, they want to try to interest other carriers to use the heavy maintenance base here, he said.
Mark Belko: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1262.