US Airways considers nonstop Asia flights from Philadelphia International

Officials said Asia service would await new planes and depend on fuel costs and government OKs. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Officials said Asia service would await new planes and depend on fuel costs and government OKs. STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 17, 2012

Philadelphia will be the US Airways hub for nonstop flights to Asia if the airline launches service to China, Japan or Turkey, airline officials said.

Currently, the only nonstop flight to Asia from Philadelphia International Airport is a US Airways flight to Tel Aviv, Israel. Philadelphia is the largest metro area in the country without nonstop service to other cities in Asia.

Service to Beijing, Istanbul or Narita, Japan, will await the delivery of new long-distance planes in the next several years and would also depend on fuel costs and government approvals, officials said.

“These are all things that may happen, but they depend on what happens on a macroeconomic level,” US Airways president Scott Kirby told employees in recent “state of the airline” remarks. “Our aircraft order gives us flexibility, and we can use these aircraft either as replacement aircraft or to grow into those markets.”

Kirby made similar statements to financial analysts and reporters in the company’s quarterly earnings call late last month.

US Airways is awaiting delivery next year of five Airbus A330-200s, the longest-range planes in the airline’s fleet. It is scheduled to take delivery of three more A330-200s in 2014.

In 2017, US Airways expects to receive its first A350s, the long-range, wide-body Airbus now in development and designed to be capable of nonstop flights to China from Philadelphia.

Philadelphia would be the airline’s hub for Asia service because of the many business travelers who use the airport, officials said. Some flights to Narita might also originate in Phoenix, Kirby said.

Philadelphia-area travelers who want nonstop service to Asia must currently go to Newark, New York, or Washington-Dulles.

“China is a booming market and one that we would like to serve at some point,” US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said Tuesday.

US Airways received approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to fly from Philadelphia to Beijing in July 2008 but elected not to because of economic conditions. The airline relinquished the DOT authorization for Beijing at the end of 2009.

The city-owned Philadelphia International Airport handles about 3.8 million international passengers a year, ranking it 11th among U.S. airports. But almost all the 64 daily international flights from Philadelphia are to destinations in North America or Europe.

US Airways, the dominant carrier at Philadelphia International, operates 84 percent of the international flights.

Airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said city government and regional leaders “were highly supportive of US Airways’ plans for new nonstop service to Beijing, and we were all tremendously disappointed when they decided to give the China route back to the Department of Transportation.”

“The time is right to service these markets,” Lupica said. “We are constantly in dialogue with airline carriers both domestic and foreign, looking at new opportunities for direct, nonstop air service to meet the needs of our travelers and U.S. companies. We look forward to doing business abroad in the emerging Asian markets as well as South America, India and other parts of the world.”

“The primary reason we chose not to serve Beijing at the time was escalating fuel prices,” Lehmacher said. “This is again a concern when evaluating any potential new international markets.”

Beijing, 7,804 miles from Philadelphia, is a significantly longer flight than Tel Aviv, which, at 6,635 miles, is currently US Airways’ longest flight. A flight from Philadelphia to Beijing would take about 14 hours.

Contact Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.

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