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Airline Merger Creates Few Immediate Changes At CLT

Mark Harkin

US Airways and American Airlines officially merged Monday to create the world’s largest airline. Charlotte’s airport, a current US Airways hub, will become the second-busiest in the new airline’s network but customers and employees are not expected to see immediate changes.

The merger closed after almost a year of work, as well as a federal lawsuit that nearly derailed it. Despite that, Terri Pope, US Airways vice president of the Charlotte hub, says more work lies ahead than behind.

“A lot of work ahead, the bulk of the work ahead,” Pope says. “But, first things first.”

First, the airlines are going to celebrate the merger. It pulls American out of bankruptcy, installs US Airways CEO Doug Parker at the helm, and creates an airline that surpasses both United and Delta with the largest fleet and most passengers.

Pope says Charlotte will see more business.

Charlotte has “640 daily departures today, and in the very new future our plan is to go up to 700,” she says.

Other mergers have led to reduced flights and job cuts at hub airports when the merged airlines “rationalized” their network of flights. Charlotte could be particularly vulnerable to this, since up to 90 percent of passengers will be riding on the merged airline. But, the merger agreement commits to retaining all hubs for at least three years, and Pope says Charlotte is part of the long-term picture.

“Your staffing doesn’t go down when your flight count is going up,” she says.

The rising flight count, including more international flights, will mean changes at CLT. Interim aviation director Brent Cagle says he plans to break ground on a new international terminal as early as next November. But he says customers should not expect to see changes from the merger immediately.

“At this point, on day one, it’s a little bit early to know exactly what physical changes will come into the terminal, but certainly their will be some,” Cagle says.

The airlines say it will take at least a year and a half before the two fleets are merged, occurring in stages. It will start in January, when frequent flier programs combine. Before that, airline officials say they are just focused on making it through the busy holiday season.