January 16, 2014

American-US Airways merger ends flights from DC to 3 NC airports

Military travelers made frequent use of flights to Reagan National Airport from Fayetteville and Jacksonville. The American-US Airways merger also kills a nonstop flight from Washington to Wilmington.

The merger of two big airlines means that three small airports in Eastern North Carolina will lose their nonstop flights to Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

Fayetteville, Jacksonville and Wilmington are among 17 cities that will be hit by the cuts at Washington Reagan announced this week by American Airlines, in the wake of its merger with US Airways.

“It’s tough for those airports and tough for North Carolina, because those are valuable slots, and they had to work hard to get them,” Richard Walls, deputy secretary for transit at the state Department of Transportation, said Thursday.

Each of the three airports is losing a US Airways flight that leaves in the morning and returns in the evening, convenient for a one-day business trip to Washington. The flights are used by military officers and civilian contractors who travel between the Pentagon and naval, Marine and Army installations near the Fayetteville and Jacksonville airports.

“We’re disappointed by the loss of this service,” Christopher White, director of Ellis Airport at Jacksonville, said Thursday. “It was popular and highly utilized.”

American and US Airways were required to give up a combined 52-round-trip landing slots at Washington Reagan in order to settle an antitrust lawsuit and win Justice Department approval for their merger, which took effect in December. The changes will allow competing airlines to offer new flights at Washington Reagan. There have been no announcements about which cities will receive this service.

Pressure from the Defense Department helped Fayetteville Regional Airport secure the Washington Reagan flight two years ago, after the Army Forces Command and Army Reserve Command were moved from Fort McPherson, Ga., to Fort Bragg. The count of generals at Fort Bragg rose from a half-dozen to 32 – second only to the Pentagon.

“They indicated they needed a direct flight to the nation’s capital and the Pentagon,” said Bradley Whited, the Fayetteville airport director. “We’re certainly disappointed to lose this.”

United Airlines still offers three daily round-trips between Fayetteville and Washington’s suburban airport, Dulles – good for connecting to other flights, but not for a convenient trip into the District of Columbia.

“The Dulles connection is to United’s hub there,” Whited said. “It’s not as easy to get downtown from Dulles – it’s a 45-minute drive.”

The merged airlines also were required to give up a smaller number of slots at New York LaGuardia, dropping flights to three larger cities that are hubs for competing airlines. At the same time, as the two airlines reshuffled their schedules, they announced new service to LaGuardia from 10 cities, including Greensboro and Wilmington – both of which already have Delta flights to LaGuardia.

American has not announced any merger-related changes at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

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