June 17, 2008

Allegheny County Officials to Lobby Southwest Airlines

By Thomas Olson

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato is expected to lead a delegation of local officials today on a trip to Dallas to lobby the head of Southwest Airlines for additional flights in Pittsburgh.

"With US Airways down to about 65 flights a day here, Southwest can pretty much see that US Airways' commitment to Pittsburgh is gone," Onorato said.

He described the planned meeting with Southwest CEO Gary Kelly as "a continuation of a conversation" about the discounter's future at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Joining Onorato will be county Airport Authority Board Chairman Glenn Mahone and authority Executive Director Bradley Penrod. The trip is intended to "solidify the relationship with Southwest," Penrod said.

Airline spokesman Whitney Eichinger said the meeting would be about "the possibilities for Pittsburgh," but that no new destinations or additional flights were being announced any time soon.

Since beginning Pittsburgh service three years ago, Southwest has grown its passenger market share to nearly 17 percent. By contrast, US Airways' market share has dropped from 59 percent in June 2005 to 33 percent in April, according to the latest authority figures.

Southwest started serving Pittsburgh in May 2005 with 10 daily flights to Philadelphia, Chicago, Orlando and Las Vegas. That schedule has grown to 23 flights a day, including the additional cities of Baltimore, Phoenix and Tampa.

"There's a market to be served here," Onorato said. "The days where low-cost carriers come in and US Airways would undercut them (on fares) are over."

Southwest in early December said it would reduce 2008 capacity growth to about 4 percent from the previous 6 percent, which includes retiring planes faster than adding new ones. Kelly had cited concerns about high fuel prices and a slower U.S. economy.

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