Pittsburgh Airport has learned the hard way that hub status, as desirable as it is, does not always last forever as US Airways downsizes there yet again

The Steel City, as Pittsburgh is known, is reeling. After announcing that it had lost $40 million at the city's airport in the past year, hometown carrier US Airways said it was further downsizing its already diminished presence. Pittsburgh was USAir's operational and maintenance headquarters and the home to the airline's single largest group of workers.

Few carriers have faced a greater hub legacy than the new US Airways, the amalgam of America West Airlines and the old USAir, itself an amalgam of several hub-and-spoke carriers. As USAir grew through the 1980s and 1990s it shed Dayton and Baltimore/Washington International airports, but faced its greatest challenges in Pittsburgh, the city and the airport most closely associated with USAir and predecessor Allegheny.

In 1993, USAir had persuaded the city to build a $1 billion terminal that became a showcase for airport retailing. But the city was changing, losing its industrial base, while discount-seekers were driving up to Akron or Cleveland to get cheap fares on ­AirTran or Southwest Airlines.

By 2004, US Airways had cut out its Pittsburgh international flights, ­shifting its overseas operation to Philadelphia and downgrading Pittsburgh to a focus city. Finally, this autumn the airline made official what had been a reality for a long time: PIT was no longer it.

US Airways officials had certainly sketched the inevitable in late summer, when he unveiled an Airbus in the livery of the Pittsburgh Steelers team, chief executive Doug Parker told PIT workers that it was just unrealistic to hope for more service. Then came the news that by January it will have slashed flights by about 40%, from 108 daily flights to 68 a day, with mainline flights dropping from 31 to 22 and regional flights from 77 to 46 a day. US Airways will retain an operations facility it is building in Pittsburgh, so the workforce will not drop from its 1,800 level - a shadow of its former payroll of 9,000 workers.

But the news failed to shake Pittsburgh's aviation leaders, who had read the writing on the wall. As the legacy carriers shrank in response to the 9/11 downturn and as US Airways went through its two bankruptcy reorganisations, the city elders had accepted that Pittsburgh would no longer be a major connecting point as it had been for decades and had recruited the likes of AirTran, JetBlue and even Southwest, the US Airways-killer.

Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato responded with aplomb: "To me, this is no news. What you're seeing is, US Airways can't compete in Pittsburgh. This is the market place playing out. The days of subsidising them to keep flights here are long gone." The airport authority said local traffic had risen by over 13% from 2004 to 2006 because "Pittsburgh supports the airlines that support it".

Pittsburgh's Midfield terminal, designed a decade ago with US Airways in mind

Source: Airline Business