An interesting article by Ted Reed yesterday led me to reflect on my North Carolina upbringing, and particularly my time spent in Charlotte. When Piedmont Airlines was facing a changed marketplace following airline deregulation, they elected to change their focus from serving as a feeder to Eastern and Delta to one of an airline standing on its own. Among the first steps in that direction was establishing a hub in Charlotte. As Piedmont grew, so did the Charlotte hub, eventually offering North Carolina’s first nonstop service to London among other things. Charlotte continued to thrive as a hub for US Airways.

As the eventual merger with American picked up steam, a lot of the armchair airline CEOs on the message boards began to chant for the demise of Charlotte as a hub. They pointed to things like its relatively low local O&D traffic, and American’s stronger hubs. I predicted then that they were both right and wrong. I expected a change in Charlotte’s focus, and that’s exactly what is happening. According to the article,

In May, airport officials said they would add a new concourse with eight to 12 domestic gates, rather than build the separate international terminal that was once planned. “I think it will start out as domestic,” Brent Cagle, interim aviation director, told The Charlotte Observer. “We know today we need new domestic gates.”

In other words, a lot (but certainly not all) of Charlotte’s international service is going to go away as the new airline becomes one big network. Charlotte’s focus will change from one of primary hub for a smaller airline, to that of big hub in the southeastern US for the world’s largest airline. As part of the Oneworld alliance, it’s not beyond possibility that Charlotte sees more service to London, perhaps Madrid, and that British Airways could even return to the airport after a long hiatus to pick up some of the service to London. I’d expected a lot of the “second tier” Europe flying that US Airways added for the summer season as well as the South America routes to go away, and that’s exactly what is happening. Those things did not make much sense within the context of the new American’s much stronger combined route network.

In the end, things are working out just about as I’d thought they would. As an ex-AA’er, and Charlottean, I’m watching what happens with the new American overall, and the Charlotte hub with great #AvGeek interest. All this said, Piedmont is still my favorite airline ever! 🙂

-MJ, October 8, 2014