US Airways CEO Doug Parker, in Charlotte Thursday to pump up support for his impending merger with American Airlines, made it clear that his airline expects to have a big say in choosing longtime aviation director Jerry Orr’s successor.
Parker said he’s neutral on the question of whether Charlotte City Council should be stripped of its control of the airport and give Charlotte Douglas International to a new, independent authority.
But he said it’s very important to US Airways — the airport’s largest tenant by far — that the next aviation director enjoy the same level of autonomy that Orr did for decades, and that Charlotte Douglas remain a low-cost hub.
“We think the world of Jerry,” Parker said of the 72-year-old Orr, who has run the airport since 1989. The Observer reported Sunday that a tense meeting between former Charlotte city manager Curt Walton and Charlotte-based US Airways official Chuck Allen about picking Orr’s successor fueled the current push in the state legislature to establish a new regional airport authority.
“I wasn’t there, I don’t know. I’m not trying to disavow it,” Parker said of that meeting. “But Chuck speaks for all of us…If any of us were in a meeting and there was a suggestion that Jerry was going to leave, if I would have been there I would have said we’d like to have some input….That’s a really important job.”
According to an account of the meeting from Stan Campbell, a former Charlotte city council member who is backing the authority push, Allen wasn’t satisfied with Walton’s answer. “And (Allen) said they basically said, ‘Thanks for sharing, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. That’s not your business, that’s our business,'” Campbell told the Observer.
While stressing that he wasn’t at the meeting, Parker told the Observer that would have raised concerns for US Airways.
“If indeed we were then told you’re not going to have any input I can imagine we might have taken that negatively,” Parker said.
He said actually picking the aviation director to succeed Orr isn’t US Airways’ job, but the airline should have its voice heard. That includes things such as a seat on any selection committee and the opportunity to interview and suggest candidates.
“I do think whoever’s job it is would want our input, and if they didn’t, that would start to sound like a difference in their relationship vs. what we’ve seen in the past,” Parker said. “I think it’s a fair request.”
US Airways operates about 90 percent of daily flights at Charlotte Douglas. After its merger with American Airlines, which the airline expects to complete in the third quarter, the combined company will have more than 650 daily flights from Charlotte Douglas — about 94 percent of Charlotte’s total.
US Airways has grown dramatically at Charlotte Douglas, becoming the fourth-largest single-airline hub in the world when measured by departures, behind Delta Air Lines in Atlanta, American in Dallas/Fort Worth, and United Continental in Houston.
That business model works, Parker said, only because Charlotte Douglas is the lowest-cost hub of any major airport to operate from. About 75 percent of US Airways passengers at Charlotte Douglas are connecting to other destinations. Those pushing an airport authority have suggested costs could rise under city management.
Parker said he hasn’t heard specific concerns about increasing costs at Charlotte Douglas. He also said the ultimate structure of airport governance doesn’t matter to US Airways — but keeping the airport efficient does.
“We’re not taking sides. All we want is wherever this ends up is to result in the airport being as efficiently run as it has been today,” Parker said. “We’re not neutral, neutral sounds like we don’t care. We care a lot. What we care about is that where it ends up is consistent with what we’ve seen so far.”
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