In 2004, US Airways downgraded its operations at Pittsburgh International Airport from hub to focus city status, taking with it half its flights and leaving swathes of terminal unused. Scott McCartney relates the story of what happened next: fares fell through the floor and low-cost carriers rushed in to take advantage of the situation. For a season, Pittsburgh mourned the loss of its hub and especially its prestigious transatlantic service to London and Frankfurt. But the Allegheny County Airport Authority takes a realistic view about luring back transatlantic service: “We have to depend on our market, and that may only be able to support international flights seven or eight months out of the year.”
Now, Things with Wings reports, US Airways is cutting back even more. Rather than respond with histrionics, the airport authority is welcoming the opportunity to get more flights from low-cost carriers. Moreover, according to a quotation over at Towers and Tarmacs, Pittsburgh is deploying incentives strategically: “We don’t rely just on the incentives. Any airline will tell you that if a market is not there, incentives will not work. The incentives are more a way to help increase brand awareness by telling passengers that there’s not just one carrier at Pittsburgh. At one point, 87% of our flights used to be with US Airways.”
The lesson Pittsburgh has taken to heart–that hub closure is not necessarily a long-term loss–is one for several other airports intent on remaining captive to high fares at their fortress hubs.