Virgin America ponders Philadelphia airport expansion

Posted: April 7, 2012 in Airlines, Aviation & Airports (General News), USA
Tags: , , , , , ,

Having just arrived in Philadelphia, low-cost airline Virgin America will quickly find itself involved in the debate over the city’s planned expansion of Philadelphia International Airport.

Low-cost airline Virgin America will quickly find itself involved in the debate over the city's planned expansion of Philadelphia International Airport

Low-cost airline Virgin America will quickly find itself involved in the debate over the city's planned expansion of Philadelphia International Airport

Picture: from left, Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Congressman Chaka Fattah, Virgin America CEO and President David Cush, Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson and flight attendants wave to the crowd at the airport . Virgin America lands in Philadelphia with new direct flights into Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco International Airport ( SFO). April 4, 2012. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer).

Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson and chief executive officer David Cush cautiously broached the issue this week, urging a weighing of the dueling priorities of the city-owned airport and its airline tenants.

“It’s a very complicated balancing act for an airport,” said Cush in an interview. “You have to build for the future, but you have to keep your eye on the costs in the present, or airlines just leave.”

The expansion plan, which the city says would cost $6.4 billion over 13 years, would build a fifth runway, lengthen two existing runways, and add new terminal and parking facilities. The city says the expansion is necessary to increase capacity and reduce congestion at Philadelphia International.

The airlines that operate at the airport, particularly the two largest carriers, US Airways and Southwest Airlines, contend the cost would be much higher – about $10.5 billion – and that since they would be expected to pay much of that, it could force them to reduce operations in Philadelphia. They argue that a new runway would not substantially reduce congestion in Philadelphia, because the big problem is the crowded airspace between New York and Washington.

Officials for the city and US Airways are now in negotiations over a long-term airport lease for the airline. US Airways is balking at signing a new lease unless the current expansion plans are changed.

Cush said airports and airlines have different goals, which often creates tensions over development projects.

“Airports have to think longer-term than sometimes airlines do,” he said. “When you’re building a new terminal or building a new runway, in particular a new runway, these are 20-year projects. Airlines are thinking about the next quarter and the next year.”

Still, it’s important for an airport to hold down its cost structure, Cush said. “When airports overbuild or when airports build facilities that are too expensive, airlines leave.”

Read the full story at philly.com….


April 06, 2012
By Paul Nussbaum, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER


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