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What US Airways Plans for 2012

Stocks in this article: AMR DAL LCC JBLU

CHARLOTTE, N.C. ( TheStreet) -- Ancient airline history once made US Airways (LCC) a major player in New York as it served destinations where air service was pioneered by predecessors Empire Airlinesand Mohawk Airlines.

But today's airline industry, with its emaciated profit margins, allows the carrier little room for sentimentality beyond the airplanes it has painted in the colors of four predecessors and the memorabilia in the lobby of its Tempe, Ariz., headquarters. So the biggest piece of US Airways' action plan for 2012, assuming the Justice Department does not move in opposition, is to further reduce its historic position at New York's LaGuardia Airport.

That reduction is part of a slot trade with Delta (DAL), which will make Delta bigger at LaGuardia and US Airways bigger at Washington's Reagan National Airport. National, too, has long been important to US Airways. Predecessor Allegheny Airlines once had its headquarters in a National hangar. The CEO of US Air once overlooked National's runways from the window of his Crystal City office.

Looking ahead, at National US Airways "will have 42 more daily departures, which will enable us to broaden our network by serving cities we don't currently serve from DCA and to be more attractive to our customer base at DCA," said Michael Britman, managing director of strategic planning, in an interview.

The second most visible 2012 improvement will be completion of an effort to modernize the fleet that serves the Phoenix hub and is flown by pilots from the former America West. US Airways serves 80 markets from Phoenix, using about 110 Airbus jets as well as nine Boeing 757s, which fly to Hawaii. This month, US Airways, the world's largest Airbus operator, removed its last aging Boeing 737 from the Phoenix fleet. Over the next three years, it will retire all of its 737-300s and 400s from its eastern operations as well.

In Charlotte and Philadelphia, the two largest hubs, operations will generally be stable in 2012.

"Our major transformation began in 2006 when we started to focus on four cities" including the three hubs and National, Britman said. In 2006, 83% of US Airways capacity touched the four cities; now the number is 99%. Similar strategies are being pursued throughout the airline industry: American parent AMR (AMR), for instance, said that 99% of its capacity now touches its five "cornerstone" cities.

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