US Airways passengers likely will be boarding flights from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to Europe within the next two years. By 2010, the company will have Airbus A330-200s, planes capable of flying long-haul destinations from Phoenix, said US Airways president Scott Kirby.
Flights to Europe, rather than Asia, will be first out of the gate from Sky Harbor, Kirby said.
But by then the hometown airline could be a lot bigger - and possibly based somewhere other than Tempe.
Kirby wouldn't say whether an apparently scuttled merger attempt between Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines opens up an opportunity for US Airways to jump into the fray.
"We have to wait and see what happens," Kirby said. "We're not in the driver's seat with consolidation, but we'd like to participate."
US Airways executives offered up their estimates of the state of the Tempe-based airline and the entire U.S. airline industry Thursday, while unionized employees who haven't agreed on new labor contracts since the September 2005 merger of America West and US Airways picketed outside the company's headquarters.
Furthest from a contract deal are the pilots, Kirby said.
The company is in talks with fleet workers, mechanics and flight attendants, but pilots have stalled negotiations to decide on possible new union representation because they can't agree on how to determine seniority.
Seniority is an important and emotional issue for pilots because it determines pay, promotions and lifestyle, said US Airways CEO Doug Parker.
In fact, it's the issue that seemingly has sabotaged the Northwest-Delta hookup, which seemed weeks ago to be a nearly done deal. The two carriers said they wouldn't merge unless the pilots could agree.
Parker said he wouldn't do it that way, and that it's not fair to the pilots to make everything hinge on a quick resolution to a career-impacting agreement.
"If the real goal is to get a transaction done, you need to move forward, and the sooner the better," Parker said.
With soaring jet fuel costs and a looming economic downturn, the industry is in trouble, he said.
US Airways has enough reserves to withstand a down cycle, he said, but other carriers may not.
Parker would not say whether he is in talks with either of the would-be merger partners, or with United or Continental, two others named as possible suitors.
But he said only a merger of major airlines that have some route overlap could achieve significant cost savings.
Despite picketing pilots, the merger he engineered achieved annual cost savings of $600 million and turned two foundering airlines into a strong and stable company, he said. And the 2005 merger saved 30,000 jobs and service to several small communities that would have been lost if US Airways went under.