PHOENIX - America West Airlines will eliminate its unprofitable hub in Columbus, Ohio, by mid-June, reducing the number of daily flights originating there from 49 to four, the company announced today.
The airline will also be cutting its Columbus work force to about 65 from roughly 400 employees. The remainder of the Columbus employees will have the option of transferring elsewhere within the company or taking a severance package, the airline said.
America West spokeswoman Janice Monahan said the Columbus hub, one of three for the airline, has been consistently unprofitable. The airline was losing about $25 million per year on the operation.
“It is a decision that we needed to do to help us reach our goal of improving financial performance and ultimately return the airline to profitability,’’ Monahan said.
The Tempe-based airline, the nation’s eighth-largest carrier, has posted losses for nine straight quarters.
Airline officials said the Columbus hub is no longer as crucial as it was when it was established in 1991 to connect passengers to the East Coast.
“As flights from our primary hubs of Phoenix and Las Vegas grew to major East Coast markets, the value of Columbus as a connecting hub has diminished,’’ said Scott Kirby, an America West executive vice president.
As part of the downsizing, America West will phase 12 Columbus-based regional jets out of its fleet. The aircraft will remain with Chautauqua Airlines, which operated them under the America West Express name.
Monahan said the America West Express flights made up the bulk of the airline’s flights out of the Columbus hub, which served 15 destinations. The airline will now only operate two daily flights to Phoenix and two to Las Vegas.
David Whitaker, a vice president at Port Columbus International Airport, said America West carried 21 percent of the airport’s passengers in 2002, more than any other carrier.
But despite the loss, Whitaker said he doubts there will be a 21 percent decline in traffic. He predicted other airlines will pick up some of the slack.
Still, Columbus political and business leaders expressed disappointment about America West’s decision.
The airport “is an asset in a regional economy and we want to touch as many cities as possible,’’ said Mike Brown, a spokesman for Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman.