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New US Airways regional jet unit to use mainline terminal

Saturday, June 01, 2002

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

US Airways prefers to use mainline jet gates at Pittsburgh International Airport rather than the airport's commuter terminal to launch the new commuter airline that is part of its proposed restructuring.

If possible, the carrier is hoping to use the 58 gates it occupies in the airport's Airside Building to dock the regional jets that will fly the US Airways Express banner under the airline's new and wholly owned MidAtlantic Airways commuter subsidiary. Most of the gates are in the A and B concourses.

US Airways also may have the option of using the commuter terminal located in the airport's Landside Building. But airline spokesman John Ellis said the carrier's goal is to provide "seamless service" between regional jet and mainline operations.

"With that in mind, obviously we would have a preference to use the mainline gates where that is possible," he said.

That would enable travelers to make connections more quickly since they simply would have to go from one gate to another in one of the Airside Building's four concourses, much as US Airways customers do now.

Should US Airways utilize the commuter terminal, travelers would have to take an underground people mover from the Landside Building to the Airside Building to make a connection to a mainline flight. The Airside Building also is the focal point for the Airmall, the collection of shops and restaurants popular with travelers.

Ellis said US Airways now has 64 regional jet departures from Pittsburgh International Airport each day. The majority of those planes, which seat 35 to 90 passengers, use mainline gates. Some board and deplane in the ramp areas, Airport Authority Executive Director Kent George said.

The Airport Authority prefers that US Airways use mainline gates for the MidAtlantic operation, George said, because the commuter terminal was not set up for jet aircraft.

George said US Airways had plenty of capacity on existing mainline gates to handle additional regional jets. The authority also owns 11 gates in the Airside Building that it could lease to US Airways, if necessary. Some existing gates would have to be modified to accommodate regional jets, he added.

Initially, the new commuter airline will bring 500 employees and 35 to 45 regional jets here, with the possibility of growing to as many as 300 jets and thousands of employees."We can handle the expansion they're talking about with better utilization of gates in A and B [concourses]," George said. "If we get to the point where we need more, that would be a nice problem to have and I would like to work on that."

Should there be a need for expansion, another 25 gates could be added to the C and D concourses fairly quickly. George said the utilities and the initial design work for those gates were completed during the construction of the midfield terminal, which opened in October 1992.

The MidAtlantic start-up is contingent on US Airways receiving $1.2 billion in concessions from employees and vendors, as well as $1 billion in federal loan guarantees. Without all of that in place, it would be difficult for the airline to acquire the regional jets it needs.

Post-Gazette staff writer Frank Reeves contributed to this story.

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