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Pa. officials ask US Airways to keep flight center

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Officials in western Pennsylvania and Gov. Tom Corbett's administration are talking to US Airways executives in an effort to keep the airline from moving 600 jobs from suburban Pittsburgh to Texas as it prepares to merge with American Airlines.

It was too early to say whether a new round of taxpayer-funded incentives could be part of the approach to keeping the US Airways jobs at a flight operations control center, said a spokesman for the Corbett administration.

"We don't know exactly what their next step is, but the governor is certainly paying close attention to the situation and is committed to having his cabinet secretaries work with the local officials and US Airways to maintain that facility and preserve the jobs," spokesman Steve Kratz said Friday.

The airline plans an $11 billion merger with American Airlines that will produce the world's biggest airline. In a meeting this month with pilots, US Airways CEO Doug Parker said the airline as a result may close the $32 million suburban Pittsburgh center in "a couple years," the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. It would consolidate it with American's larger facility in Dallas.

Parker did not provide much hope for the facility in an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial board this week.

"We've been really candid with everybody who asks," Parker told The Inquirer. "It's unlikely (the Pittsburgh center will remain open) because the Dallas operations control center is so much larger."

Parker, who will lead the airline after the merger, said no decision had been made. But the new American Airlines, which will be based in Fort Worth, Texas, will not need two flight operations control centers, he said.

Many of the Pittsburgh employees, who coordinate US Airways' 3,000 daily flights near that airport, will be offered jobs in Dallas, he said.

Still, some jobs at the facility may be in jeopardy.

US Airways has said that nearly 5,000 nonunion employees, including 300 at the suburban Pittsburgh center, will qualify for severance packages if they are not offered jobs with the newly merged company.

In 2007, US Airways accepted $4 million in state taxpayer grants and tax credits to open the center. Closing the center would continue a long decline of US Airways' presence in Pittsburgh.

US Airways used to have a hub at Pittsburgh Airport but began winding down service in 2001. Since then, the airline has cuts its workforce by about 10,000 and the airport, which once served more than 20 million passengers annually, saw only 8 million last year.

US Airways now employs about 1,800 people in western Pennsylvania and operates 41 daily departures from Pittsburgh, down from its peak of 512 in 2001.