US Airways files objections to Phila. airport expansion

Passengers check in for US Airways flights at O'Hare in Chicago. The airline has told the SEC that a runway and terminal expansion in Philadelphia could hurt its finances.
Passengers check in for US Airways flights at O'Hare in Chicago. The airline has told the SEC that a runway and terminal expansion in Philadelphia could hurt its finances. (DANIEL ACKER / Bloomberg News)
Posted: February 23, 2012

US Airways Group Inc. said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday that a multibillion-dollar runway and terminal expansion at Philadelphia International Airport could harm its finances and business operations and force it to shift flights elsewhere.

The airline, which transports nearly 70 percent of the airport's passengers, included the statement in its 2011 annual report to federal regulators. Its objections were already well-known to Philadelphia officials.

"If we are unable to operate profitably from Philadelphia, we may need to significantly reduce our business at Philadelphia, or move that business to another of our hubs," US Airways said.

"Our business, financial condition, and results of operations could be harmed by an increase in airport rates and fees charged by Philadelphia International Airport in connection with, and following, the airport expansion."

Mark Gale, the airport's chief executive, said: "We continue to work with all our key stakeholders and airline partners on both short-term and long-term projects aimed at enhancing the airport's operation, which in turn keeps PHL competitive to serve our world-class region. We believe that we share common interests in finding an acceptable solution for all parties."

US Airways, backed by other airlines, went public in January with opposition to a new runway along the Delaware River on 212 acres now owned and operated by United Parcel Service as a large airfreight facility.

At the time, US Airways said it did not oppose the entire expansion, but rather the proposed runway, which airlines contend would not greatly alleviate delays because Philadelphia's airspace, shared with New York, is so congested. Nor would a new runway necessarily attract more international service, airlines said.

The city contends the runway is important to reduce chronic delays, especially in inclement weather, and to accommodate future growth. The expansion would create thousands of temporary construction jobs.

US Airways spoke out after the city demanded that airlines sign a 15-year lease agreeing to pay for the runway.

In a 159-page regulatory filing, US Airways said that the expansion over the next 13 years would "result in huge cost increases for airlines serving Philadelphia" and that "expenditures have already begun."

US Airways' hub in Charlotte, N.C., is its largest, with 595 daily flights. But Philadelphia, an international hub with 429 daily flights, generates more revenue.

The city has estimated the total expansion cost at $6.4 billion. Airlines, which would foot much of the bill in rates and charges through debt service on airport revenue bonds, say it could cost $10.5 billion.

While no city tax dollars would be used, the Federal Aviation Administration permits a $4.50 passenger facility charge on each departing traveler to defray costs of airport improvement projects.


Contact staff writer Linda Loyd at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.

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