US Airways Plan Draws Protest


With less than a month before US Airways slashes its flight schedule and closes its local crew base, pilots and flight attendants demonstrated Wednesday at McCarran International Airport to try to pressure airline management to rescind its plan.

About 30 of the employees, walking in an unusually precise picket line, hoped that media exposure will spur others to assist their cause.

"We want to heighten local awareness of the impacts," said James Ray, a Charlotte, N.C.-based captain acting as a spokesman. "If local citizens care about this, if business leaders care about this, if elected officials care about this, we believe they can push US Airways management to reconsider."

In particular, they hope to find support among the leaders of the gaming industry, who need air service to fill their hotel rooms. To make it easier, the pilots have set up a Web site with sample letters and suggested courses of action.

In October, the Mesa, Ariz.-based airline announced it would cut the number of daily departures from McCarran from 64 to 36 by Jan. 31 and eliminate a crew base at the once-bustling US Airways hub. During the first 11 months of last year, US Airways was still the second-largest carrier at McCarran at 4.4 million passengers, down 34 percent from 2008.

The moves will lead to layoffs for 300 US Airways ground crew members. The closure of the crew base will force the transfer of 150 others to other airports. Airport crew bases allow employees stationed at a designated airport to start and finish their trips in that city instead of having to commute to another city first.

The company said the reductions were being made in response to high fuel prices and weak passenger demand in Las Vegas. The airline described the moves as part of a strategic decision to focus on four other cities.

But Mike Blake, a Las Vegas-based captain, called the timing of the cuts poor because visitor traffic at McCarran has recently shown hints of recovery.

None of the pilots could cite an example of where public demonstrations have prompted an airline to do an about-face on cutbacks. Still, said Mike Cleary, president of the US Airline Pilots Association, a union with 5,200 members, "We are optimistic that these are not immovable objects."

As part of a lobbying effort, Blake said, he had approached McCarran officials about granting financial concessions on such things as gate rentals, hoping for savings that would equal those from the cutbacks. He said airport managers declined because they would have to give the same deal to other carriers.

Airport spokesman Chris Jones said he could not confirm Blake's account.

A US Airways spokesman declined to comment.

Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at toreiley@lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5290.

 

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