Councilman Kenyatta Johnson today was joined by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, State Senator – Tina Tartaglione, Steven Bradley – Chairman of the African American Chamber of Commerce, Varsovia Fernandez – President and CEO of the Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Geri Swift, President of the Women’s Business Development Center, as well as other business leaders and community advocates in announcing plans to hold hearings on the proposed US Airways/American Airlines merger and its potential impact on plans to expand Philadelphia International Airport.
Councilman Johnson said he was particularly concerned about how the proposed merger could impact jobs, minority contracts, small businesses, flights, travel and the expansion of Philadelphia International. He said he hoped hearings would address questions and concerns.
“As many of you are aware, there is a plan in place to carry out a $6.4B expansion of Philadelphia International Airport. At the same time, there has also been an increasingly active discussion about a proposed merger between US Airways and American Airlines,” Johnson said.
“I am in favor of several components of the airport’s Capacity Enhancement Program, but as we move forward, there must be open dialogue on the merger between US Airways and American and its impact on our regional economy.”
A number of constituents and stakeholders have raised concerns about how a potential airline merger would impact our city,” Johnson added. “It is my hope that the hearings I have proposed will help bring clarity to the issues.”
During the 11:00 a.m. press conference in the City Council Caucus Room, speakers expressed concerns about massive job losses that could result from a merger and about the impact on the region’s labor industry – particularly minority, woman-owned and small businesses.
Some of the concerns were driven by what happened in Pittsburgh in 2005 when US Airways merged with America West, cut 10,000 jobs, reduced flights from 542 to 68 and eliminated the hub, leaving it a shadow of its former self.
“Our concern is that if a merger were to happen, US Airways could downgrade Philadelphia International Airport from its hub status,” Bradley said. “A newly formed combined carrier would have a strong presence in other east coast cities, specifically New York’s JFK and Washington’s Reagan National Airport. Philadelphia would be caught between the two, making it a candidate for service cuts and a downgrade in hub status.”
“We need only look west to Pittsburgh to see this as a real possibility,” added Bradley, who announced a campaign called, “Protect Our Hub,” which will allow businesses and others to voice concerns to elected officials about how a potential merger might impact the future of Philadelphia International.
State Sen. Tartaglione, who chairs the Labor & Industry Committee, noted that US Airways has been unable to reach contract agreements with labor unions since its merger with America West.
“If a merger between US Airways and American Airlines comes to fruition, it’s possible that current labor problems will be compounded, making the ratification of new US Airways contracts even more unlikely,” she said.
Moving forward, Councilwoman Brown said her “laser beam” focus will be on ensuring that women and small businesses have the opportunity to compete for and win contracts that will keep dollars in Philadelphia.
“Any merger between US Airways and American Airlines should not be completed until it is assured that Philadelphia International Airport remains a hub and major international gateway,” she said. “Both airlines must ensure that whatever decision is made by the companies that assurances of Philadelphia’s stability, if not growth, are in place.”
Councilman Johnson will hold two hearings next year – one on the proposed merger and a second on the proposed expansion. Dates will be forthcoming.
In the meantime Johnson said he looks forward to bringing all stakeholders to the table.
“We are fortunate to have an ongoing dialogue and relationship with US Airways through which we can discuss issues of importance to our community,” Johnson said. “Whether it is the expansion or the merger, we know US Airways shares our interest in a vibrant and economically diverse Philadelphia hub.”