US Airways juggles capacity and fleet

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US Airways is keeping an eye on its aircraft mix and capacity plans for 2013, as it takes into account ageing aircraft and a shifting demand environment.

The Tempe, Arizona-based carrier anticipates a 3.5% increase in available seat miles (ASMs) this year, with increases of 3% in the second quarter, 3.6% in the third and 6.5% in the fourth, according to guidance on 23 April. At the same time, it has adjusted its fleet plan to remove three 204-seat Boeing 767-200ERs in the fourth quarter while retaining three 150-seat Airbus A320s it had previously planned to remove.

"We're telling you what our plan is today," said Scott Kirby, president of US Airways, during an earnings call on 23 April. "But we have a lot of time between now and then to adjust based on what the macroeconomic outlook and fuel outlook are."

US Airways saw decline in demand in both March and April due to the US federal government budget cuts known as the sequester and volatile business demand, he said.

The bump in fourth quarter capacity is the result of the cumulative addition of 16 Airbus A321s and five Airbus A330-200s, the pulldown in capacity following superstorm Sandy in October and November 2012, and having fewer aircraft out for maintenance compared to a year earlier, says US Airways chief financial officer Derek Kerr at a media event in Tempe on 24 April.

He says that the decision to remove the 767s is based on their age and not related to the demand environment. US Airways will replace the aircraft with the A330s despite its original plans to replace them with the Airbus A350, for which deliveries have been delayed to 2017, he adds.

"Any capacity growth is gauge and not new [additional] aircraft," he says, looking out at the next five years.

US Airways' fleet count will be pretty much flat this year. It will add two aircraft to the mainline fleet for a total of 342 and the Express fleet will shrink by three aircraft to 279, according to the guidance.

The airline will remove one additional 767 in early 2014 leaving six in its fleet, says Kerr.

"The goal is to be profitable, not to pursue market share for market shares sake," says Kirby at the media event.

US Airways fleet plan will change once again if its proposed merger with American Airlines is approved. Kerr says that the combination would likely allow it to remove older aircraft, including the 767s and its Boeing 757-200s, earlier than it planned to due to the large number of widebody aircraft American has on order.

Fort Worth-based American's widebody orderbook includes 15 Boeing 777-300ERs, 12 Boeing 787-8s and 30 787-9s, according to Flightglobal's Ascend Online database.