US Airways flight operations center in Moon moving to Texas
Hundreds of airline workers and political leaders knew for about a year they were fighting an uphill battle to preserve 600 jobs at US Airways' $25 million flight operations center in Moon.
The new American Airlines, the product of a merger with US Airways, confirmed their doubts on Friday, saying it will mothball the publicly subsidized Moon facility and control flight operations from the Dallas-Fort Worth area within 18 months.
American officials promised they would keep about 700 maintenance jobs in Pittsburgh for at least a year but offered no guarantee beyond that, said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.
“I think we've known this would happen for a while, but when they formally tell you, it's sad,” said Dan Persuit, president of the Transport Workers Union Local 545 that represents more than 160 dispatchers in Moon.
The fate of the center that oversees US Airways' flights has been the subject of speculation since US Airways and American announced plans to merge early last year. They closed a $17.8 billion deal in December.
US Airways and American must continue to operate as separate airlines until the Federal Aviation Administration issues a joint operating certificate. That's expected to take up to two years.
Tim Campbell, senior vice president of air operations, told employees in a letter that consolidating flight operation centers is “the right decision for our business and our customers, and a necessary step on our mission to make the new American the world's best airline.”
The flight center in Texas is next to American's corporate headquarters.
“We've been doing a pretty good job without being at headquarters,” Persuit said, noting US Airways formerly maintained corporate headquarters in northern Virginia and then Tempe, Ariz.
Persuit said most dispatchers intend to relocate to Dallas and were promised jobs.
“It's hard because this is home,” Persuit said, noting many dispatchers adopted Pittsburgh as their hometown on moving from San Diego; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Phoenix, where several of US Airways' former merger partners were based. Many dispatchers have worked in Pittsburgh for more than 30 years.
Several employees declined to comment as they walked to cars when shifts ended, saying they are not permitted to speak to reporters.
American briefed local officials in a conference call. Fitzgerald and Airport Authority President Brad Penrod were among them.
“I don't know if their mind was made up all along, but certainly it seemed like they were leaning that way,” Fitzgerald said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, part of a congressional delegation that lobbied the airline to keep the center open, said: “It seemed no matter what we said to US Airways, they seemed determined to move this center.”
Fitzgerald said officials tried to change the airline's mind, though he wouldn't say what incentives they might have offered. The state provided $4 million in grants and tax credits to help build the center in Moon in 2008, beating out Charlotte and Phoenix.
Dewitt Peart, an executive vice president at the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, thinks the Moon building will be attractive to other companies.
“It's a new building with all the modern amenities. It's secure, and it's in a highly desirable location,” he said.
It's not the first time the airline took money and ran.
Allegheny County officials borrowed more than $900 million to build Pittsburgh International Airport in the early 1990s, largely to US Airways' specifications, but two bankruptcies in the early 2000s prompted the airline to close its hub, slash more than 500 daily flights, and gut a workforce that surpassed 12,000. Today it hovers around 1,800.
“We've been dealing with this type of thing for the past 10 to 12 years. It's kind of been one thing after another. It's frustrating,” Fitzgerald said.
Mike Boyd, a Colorado-based airline industry consultant, said it did not make sense for American to keep the Moon operations center.
Maintaining local maintenance jobs is another matter. The base here does about two-thirds of the overhauls on US Airways' Airbuses, an aircraft that American has added to its fleet since summer. It plans to add 260 over eight years.
“It looks like maintenance could even be something that expands down the road in Pittsburgh,” Boyd said.
Staff writers Mike Wereschagin and Bobby Kerlik contributed to this report. John D. Oravecz and Tom Fontaine are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Oravecz at firstname.lastname@example.org and Fontaine at email@example.com.