US Airways details low-cost overhaul

/ Source: news services

Bankrupt US Airways detailed plans on Monday for becoming a low-cost carrier, saying it will overhaul its flight schedule and sharply boost aircraft turnaround times beginning in February. It intends to add over 230 new flights and wants to establish a mini-hub in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

With steep court-imposed labor cost cuts assured and a fixed amount of cash from loans accessible through mid-January, the seventh-largest domestic airline will try to weather the slowest period of the year before proceeding with an unprecedented transformation ahead of spring travel.

"By changing our core business model, US Airways will be better positioned to successfully compete in an aggressive competitive environment where declines in yields, growth of other low cost carriers, and record high fuel prices are expected," said Ben Baldanza, the company's senior vice president of marketing and planning.

The changes take effect on Feb. 6, 2005, and also affect service offered by US Airways' regional partners.

US Airways plans to boost capacity and add 230 daily flights without new aircraft. It also wants to reduce aircraft turnaround times by 15 percent to more efficiently use its fleet of 281 mainline planes and 169 regional jets.

The company will, in some cases, fly bigger planes in place of regional jets and regional jets in place of smaller turboprops, which are being phased out.

"We'll be on the ground less and in the air more," said Jack Stephan, a spokesman for the airline's pilots' union. "We'll see more planes coming in and leaving quickly."

Stephan said the changes, as announced, should not impact pilot schedules other than shorter layovers.

On Friday, a bankruptcy judge in Virginia approved the company's plan for sweeping wage and other cuts on all union workers to help the carrier save more than $30 million per month. The austerity measures also permit the company to make flight attendants and pilots work more hours.

A low-cost profile
The airline's overarching survival strategy centers around expanded point-to-point flying -- like low-cost rivals -- more business destinations, expanded service to Latin America and the Caribbean, and heavier use of hubs in Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C.

It will also turn Fort Lauderdale into a mini-hub, with daily departures doubled from 27 to 54, as the airline seeks to expand its profitable network in the Caribbean.

While it will retail the Philadelphia and Charlotte hubs, arrivals and departures in Philadelphia will be changed to provide a steady flow of flights throughout the day, rather than the peak and off-peak hours that are typical of a traditional hub-and-spoke network.

The new schedule in Philadelphia will allow for greater efficiency and flexibility, the airline said. Total daily departures in Philadelphia will increase to 495, 32 percent more than in February 2004.

Charlotte will continue operations as what the airline calls a “modified hub-and-spoke” system, with 564 daily departures beginning in February, compared with 495 currently and 464 in February 2004.

Flights at US Airways' Pittsburgh hub will drop by roughly a third, as previously announced.

Nonstop service from Washington's Ronald Reagan National Airport will include six new business destinations, including Atlanta, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago O'Hare.