Ten years later: How Pittsburgh dealt with losing a hub

PITTSBURGH -- Ten years ago US Airways announced it was pulling its hub from Pittsburgh. Last year the airline announced it was merging with American Airlines. Last week the latest batch of company jobs -- 600 in all -- left for Dallas.

"I feel that our hometown airline really let us down," says frequent Pittsburgh flier Regis Smolko. "This place used to be all hustle and bustle. Tons of activity. Not anymore. It almost feels like a ghost town."

While the Pittsburgh story is a cautionary one for Cleveland, who just learned this weekend that United is pulling its hub out of Cleveland Hopkins airport, the story in Pittsburgh is far more grim.

At its peak US Airways employed 12,000 people in Pittsburgh -- its headquarters and home base. It slowly re-organized, and, by the end of this year, the employee head count will be more like 1,200 -- nine out of 10 jobs gone in a decade.

Cleveland's numbers aren't that devastating, but the trickle-down effect felt in Pittsburgh may be heading our way.

"When I talk to business leaders in Pittsburgh, the airport is a frequent cause of concern," says Bill Valenta of The University of Pittsburgh Business School. "It is far more difficult to get employees and clients in and out of the city because there are so few direct flights. The same goes for wooing conventions here. It's a tougher sell. No doubt about it."

There is also a less spoken about psychological impact cities deal with as airports become less busy. Cleveland is losing 60 percent of United flights.

"When people walk through empty airports -- particularly at night -- and it is very desolate, it sends a signal that the city is stagnant. Will Cleveland feel that? Too early to know. But we feel it in Pittsburgh," Valenta says.


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