It's Not Just New York; Philly Too Has a Trophy Airport Terminal

PHILADELPHIA ( TheStreet) -- Two months after emerging from bankruptcy in March 2003, US Airways ( LCC) took a key step at Philadelphia International Airport, expanding into a state-of-the art terminal that today is the heart of its international operation.

On Wednesday, the airport and the airline celebrated the 10th anniversary of the opening of the $550 million, 800,000-square-foot Terminal A West, which has 13 gates, used primarily by US Airways, as well as 60 ticket counter positions and about 50 customs and border patrol inspection positions. A West also houses 82-foot escalators, the longest in Philadelphia, to the fourth floor US Airways club, the airline's largest club, and an arrivals hall with an atrium roof that is six stories high.

The project reflected former CEO Stephen Wolf's vision that US Airways could, in fact, become a major international airline rather than an oversized regional airline, by fully utilizing its Philadelphia hub and by operating a fleet of hundreds of new Airbus jets, which he ordered. Wolf and close associate Rakesh Gangwal worked with Philadelphia city and airport authorities to enable the project.

Its completion helped Philadelphia become a principal trans-Atlantic hub. From Philadelphia, US Airways today operates more trans-Atlantic service from the East Coast than American ( AAMRQ.PK), its expected merger partner. Before a 2010 merger between United ( UAL) and Continental, US Airways also operated more trans-Atlantic service from the East Coast than United. Following the American merger, Philadelphia International would become the largest East Coast hub for the world's largest airline.

The development of international service from U.S. hubs has been among the key results of airline deregulation in 1980. Last week, United celebratedthe 25th anniversary of its principal international terminal in Newark, opened by People Express in 1978, and Delta ( DAL) opened a new international terminal at New York's Kennedy International Airport.

"In 2003, we were operating fewer than 80 non-stop destinations from Philadelphia: now we operate 115," said Bob Ciminelli, US Airways vice president for Philadelphia, in an interview. "Trans-Atlantic has also grown significantly since then."

"The terminal is (still) a state-of-the-art facility (with) spacious gates and modern behind-the-scenes equipment and a very friendly, open and spacious environment that makes you feel good as you use it and that enables us to operate efficiently," Ciminelli said.

The relationship between US Airways and the airport was once contentious, never more so than in 2004 when Southwest ( LUV) arrived and seemed to be given preferential treatment. But "we have great relationships here now," said Ciminelli, who arrived in 2008. That year, he said, he worked closely with airport CEO Mark Gale and with TSA officials to develop a facility where passengers disembarking from international flights could more easily recheck luggage onto their connecting domestic flights. "That speeds up connections," he said. "It was enabled by this terminal."

US Airways now serves 19 trans-Atlantic destinations from Philadelphia. Since 2005 the carrier has added nine trans-Atlantic destinations -- Athens, Barcelona, Brussels, Glasgow, Lisbon, Shannon, Tel Aviv, Venice and Zurich -- as well as Halifax and Quebec City in Canada.

In addition to US Airways, Air Canada, British Airways and Lufthansa offer international service to Philadelphia. Three weeks ago, Qatar Airways said it will begin Philadelphia service in March 2014.

"Terminal A-West is the cornerstone of our Airport complex, and we are very proud that this magnificent facility is the portal to our City and our country," airport CEO Gale said Wednesday, in a prepared statement. "This is a special day where we can celebrate the integral role A-West has played in our international air service expansion over the last decade and be excited about the opportunities to add more flights to more cities moving ahead."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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