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People in Pennsylvania will feel some merger pain as American Airlines Group opens a larger flight operations center in Texas to accommodate the much-bigger airline, which it has become.
American Airlines said this week that it plans to build a flight operations center near its headquarters in Fort Worth — putting a firm time frame on when its US Airways center in Moon, Pennsylvania, will close.
American spokesman Paul Flaningan said the company will break ground on the Texas facility, which will oversee flights for the merged American and US Airways carriers, this month. He said the goal is to have the center completed and ready for move-in by the third quarter of next year.
“That would be the time when we would consolidate the operations center and begin transferring from Pittsburgh,” Flaningan said. “We have over 600 workers (at the Moon center). We expect the majority to make the transition.”
The fate of the Moon center that handles US Airways’ flights had been the subject of speculation when the air carrier and American announced plans to merge early last year. They closed a $17.8 billion deal in December. A month later, company officials ended that speculation when they announced they would mothball the publicly subsidized Moon facility and control flight operations from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where American is headquartered, within 18 months.
The center will oversee flight planning, dispatch and monitoring.
“We had meetings every hour. There were a lot of questions, mixed emotions,” said Dan Persuit, president of Transport Workers Union Local 545, which represents 175 dispatchers in Moon. “A lot of those people have been here 30, 35 years, and when you actually see the building up in black and white, it starts setting in. It sets in that this facility is closing, even though we already knew that. People realize it’s getting to the end.”
Company officials cited the need for more space and upgraded technology for replacing the American flight operations center in Forth Worth. The building will be adjacent to the current facility, flight academy and corporate headquarters.
“All along we’ve said that having our two operations centers together, centrally located near headquarters is the right decision for our business and our customers,” Flaningan said.
The building will be 150,000 square feet with 75,000 square feet for the flight operations floor — three times the size of the Moon building, Persuit said.
American officials promised they would keep about 700 maintenance jobs in Pittsburgh for at least a year but offered no guarantee beyond that, Allegheny County officials have said.
Flaningan said the new building would not affect the maintenance facility.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has said officials tried to change the airline’s mind, though he declined to say what incentives they might have offered. The state provided $4 million in grants and tax credits to help build the center in Moon in 2008, beating out Charlotte and Phoenix.
It’s not the first time US Airways has spurned Pittsburgh.
Allegheny County officials borrowed more than $900 million to build Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay in the early 1990s, largely to US Airways’ specifications. But two bankruptcies in the early 2000s prompted the airline to close its hub, slash more than 500 daily flights, and gut a workforce that surpassed 12,000; it now hovers around 1,800.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ___