Fri March 22, 2013
US Airways CEO: 'We're Very Concerned' About Charlotte Airport
"Agnostic" is how one US Airways executive described the company's stance on whether the Charlotte airport should be overseen by the city or placed in the hands of a regional authority. US Airways CEO Doug Parker carried that same tune while in town Thursday, but also made it clear the airline doesn't want a backseat entirely.
US Airways may be "agnostic" in this debate, but it is not apathetic.
"We're highly concerned," says CEO Doug Parker. "While we're not picking sides in the fight, what we're very focused on is that the airport remains efficient, remains low cost, so we can continue to do those things for Charlotte that we've done in the past."
Namely, continue to operate its largest hub here. If the cost to fly out of Charlotte Douglas International were to go up, Parker says US Airways would shift flights somewhere cheaper and Charlotte's hub status would weaken.
"I mean, it's just math," says Parker.
That is precisely the worst-case scenario invoked by those pushing for the creation of a regional authority to manage the airport. But Parker is clear that he does not suspect that scenario is coming.
"What I know is under city control, to date, (the airport has) been fantastic and we would anticipate it continuing to be fantastic under - wherever this ends up," says Parker.
A far bigger concern, says Parker, is the impending retirement of Jerry Orr, the airport's long-time director. Orr is 72 and it's the city manager's job to replace him.
Those discussions have been ongoing for at least a year and become tense, at times, as Orr has clashed with city officials over airport decisions. Orr hasn't set a retirement date, but when that day comes, Parker says US Airways definitely wants a role in picking a successor.
"You know we're by far the largest carrier here," says Parker. "It's not ours to pick, but we know who the best are. We fly to every airport in the United States, so we know who the people that get it are, so we think our input would be valuable, yeah."
Parker says he has spoken with Mayor Anthony Foxx about the airport's future. He also leaves the door open to a more active role for US Airways in the debate over creating an airport authority, given the importance of the airport to the airline, and the significant sway US Airways could have if it voiced a preference.
"We're not picking sides because we haven't been involved in the debate as yet," says Parker. "We're getting involved in the debate a little bit now. There's a committee."
It's the Airport Governance Study Oversight Committee, which interim city manager Julie Burch convened yesterday afternoon to basically keep an eye on the consultant who's been hired to do a $150,000 study of this airport authority issue.
Since the mayor and city council have been clear they don't want the airport taken from their control, this oversight committee is designed to give the study more credibility as an unbiased analysis. It includes people for and against creating an authority.
And it includes US Airways Senior Vice President Mike Minerva.
His take on the swirl of controversy around the airport?
"Our concern is that there is a swirl going on around the airport," says Minerva. "We would like to get to a period of calm, because what we want to focus on is running the airline and not these broader issues."
These "broader issues" could be resolved as quickly as they seem to have flared up. The Charlotte City Council is paying a premium to have its study finished by May 1.
Even that may be too late. The bill to create a Charlotte Airport Authority has already passed the state senate and is likely to come up for state house consideration in the next week or two.