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A top official of US Airways Group Inc. said Wednesday that demand for air travel could improve in the fourth quarter, as the public gets more clarity on the outcome of the U.S. elections and the fiscal cliff.
Discretionary business travel to conferences and conventions has slowed, but “core business travel” has held up, Scott Kirby, president of Philadelphia’s dominant airline, told an investor conference in New York.
“Leisure-passenger demand remains strong,” Kirby said, predicting that business travel would bounce back to March-April levels.
“When the world appears uncertain, when there are headlines about Europe, about the elections in the U.S., and the fiscal cliff, businesses are much quicker to pull back,” he said at the Dahlman Rose & Co. transportation conference. “They also come back really quickly.”
Airline shares rose in trading Wednesday after Delta Air Lines and US Airways reported higher passenger revenue than Wall Street expected. Delta said August passenger revenue per available seat mile, the amount an airline makes to fly a passenger a single mile, rose 4 percent, while US Airways said passenger revenue rose 1 percent.
United Airlines’ chief financial officer told the transportation conference that it would further reduce flying the rest of this year.
“We are beginning to see some modest slowness in the economic outlook,” John Rainey said.
United will park planes, use smaller aircraft, or cut flight frequencies 2 percent to 3 percent from September through December. Earlier, United had said it would cut flying 1 percent to 2 percent. The announcement was the carrier’s third capacity reduction this year.
US Airways has petitioned the European Union to add an additional flight each day from Philadelphia to London’s Heathrow Airport and to begin new service from Charlotte, N.C., to Heathrow.
“We did submit an application to the European Union slot trustee on Aug. 23 requesting that slots be allocated for proposed new service,” the company said. US Airways currently has one daily Philadelphia flight to Heathrow.
On Wednesday, US Airways began new daily nonstop service from Philadelphia to Austin and San Antonio, Texas. It added a sixth daily flight to Dallas-Fort Worth and also flies nonstop to Houston.
The Austin flight departs Philadelphia International Airport at 5:50 p.m. daily and arrives at 8:39 p.m. The San Antonio flight leaves here at 6:10 p.m. and arrives at 9:13 p.m.
The inbound Austin flight leaves there at 7:45 a.m. and arrives at 12:08 p.m. The San Antonio flight leaves at 8:15 a.m. and arrives at 12:14 p.m.
Members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation wrote U.S. Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood this week, urging him to support US Airways’ application for the additional London Heathrow flights.
The letter noted that there were nearly 150 U.K.-owned businesses in the Philadelphia area and more than 1,500 in Pennsylvania, providing close to 40,000 jobs statewide.
Pennsylvania ranks fourth among U.S. states in the number of workers employed by British companies. In 2011, the value of Pennsylvania exports to the United Kingdom was $1.7 billion, making it the third-largest market for Pennsylvania exports, the letter said. More than 90,000 British residents visited Philadelphia last year.
(c)2012 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by MCT Information Services.