Will Airline Merger Impact Buffalo?

February 22, 2013 Updated Feb 22, 2013 at 12:28 PM EDT

By James Fink, Buffalo Business First

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Will Airline Merger Impact Buffalo?

February 22, 2013 Updated Feb 22, 2013 at 12:28 PM EDT

With the proposed merger of American Airlines and the US Airways Group Inc. up for a federal review, New York's senior senator, Charles Schumer, said he wants assurances that service to Upstate airports will not be negatively impacted by the deal.

Schumer said he will pressing the leaders of AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines and US Airways Group, to make sure that upstate airports and fliers will not lose service or see prices rise because of the deal.

"Air service is vital," Schumer said. "I don't want to see them cut back on it."

American and US Airways announced their long-discussed merger on Feb. 14.

At least in Buffalo, some feel the deal may open the door for expanded service and direct routes to cities like Dallas and St. Louis.

"I hope so," Schumer said during a stop at Buffalo Thursday afternoon.

Currently, American Airlines - through American Eagle - only flies three outbound and three inbound daily 50-seat regional jets between Buffalo and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. USAirways flies to such cities as Boston, Charlotte, Philadelphia and Washington's Reagan International Airport.

Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officials have been lobbying American to add direct flights between Buffalo and the airline's Dallas hub. They have also been pushing for direct flights between Buffalo and St. Louis.

In years past, both American and USAirways were the dominated air carriers at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, but since low-cost carriers like JetBlue and Southwest have entered the market, their share of the airport's 5 million-plus annual passengers has been dramatically sliced.

In December, USAirways had just 18 percent of the airport's outbound passengers, 25,523 for the month - a drop of 17 percent from the same time in 2011 when it handled 30,752 outbound passengers. USAirways had 18 percent of the airport's outbound passengers for the month.

American handled 4593 outbound passengers in December, or roughly four percent of the airport's outbound passengers. The airline's December outbound passenger count was off 9 percent from the same month in 2011 when it handled 5048 fliers.

Following a federal review, it is expected that the merger will take effect later this year or by early 2014.

As part of the merger, the American name will remain while the USAirways will disappear from the aviation landscape.

Schumer also said he will continue to press the U.S. Postal Service to keep its Buffalo distribution center.

The Williams Street facility, which was slated to close, was saved from the post office's chopping block after Schumer and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, lobbied Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to keep the operation going.

"Buffalo is a huge metropolitan area," Schumer said. "To not have a distribution center makes no sense."

However, Wednesday, an email from Postal Service officials to local union representatives indicated the facility may close as early as June 1.

Schumer and Higgins immediately contacted Donahoe, who denied the facility was going to close. Last year, Donahoe promised to keep the William Street operation running through, at least 2015, saving 700 jobs.

"Actually, I hope we keep it open well beyond 2015," Schumer said.