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County, state officials in talks with US Airways to preserve 600 jobs

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Friday, March 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

County and state officials are reviewing incentive agreements that US Airways signed for its Moon flight operations center to see if they have leverage to keep the company from moving 600 jobs out of the state, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said on Thursday.

Airline executives are talking with county and state politicians, the Western Pennsylvania congressional delegation and business leaders, Fitzgerald said.

He declined to specify whether public officials made any offers to US Airways, which in 2007 received $4 million in state grants and tax credits to retain 450 jobs and create 150 positions at the center that opened in 2008.

“We're going to do everything we can do to preserve those jobs,” Fitzgerald said.

The airline plans to merge with American Airlines this year. It said last week that it might close the $32 million Moon center in a couple of years and move the work of coordinating systemwide flights to Texas. American has a larger flight operations center in Dallas.

US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher would not comment on the talks in Pittsburgh.

Although US Airways was offered $16.25 million in local and state incentives to build the flight operations center near Pittsburgh International Airport, it accepted from the state a $1.25 million infrastructure development grant, $2 million in opportunity grants and $750,000 in tax credits, according to the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

Department spokesman Steve Kratz said the incentive agreements required US Airways to maintain employment for three years. He would not say whether the state might offer the airline more incentives to stay.

Dennis Davin, the county's Economic Development director and a member of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, declined to comment.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, has written to executives with American Airlines and US Airways. Casey said preserving jobs “is of the utmost importance for the regional economy.”

The senator asked the airlines to extend US Airways' maintenance-hangar lease in Pittsburgh beyond 2015.

Including the operations center workers, US Airways employs about 1,800 people in Western Pennsylvania. The company operates 41 daily departures from Pittsburgh, down from its peak of 512 in 2001 when Pittsburgh was one of its hubs.

At one time, the company employed 12,000 people in the region. Allegheny County built the $920 million airport in 1992 largely to accommodate US Airways. The company went from paying $50 million a year in 1997 toward the county's roughly $59 million in annual debt service to about $10 million a year as it cut the number of flights from Pittsburgh.

When US Airways announced the American Airlines merger last month, it provided details of severance packages to nearly 5,000 nonunion employees, including 300 at the Moon center. Lehmacher said no layoffs have occurred in Pittsburgh or elsewhere.

“This is only if a non-contract employee is not offered a job in the new organization,” he said.

Jim Vitale, a member of Moon's board of supervisors, said the township is “disappointed” that US Airways could leave. But Vitale said he understands the airline must make a business decision.

“I'm not angry over it,” he said. “It's unfortunate for us. ... But I can see that they feel that it's better for them.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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