America West Airlines Inc., the once-promising carrier now struggling through bankruptcy, will move a 300-job reservation center from Maryland to Kansas City, Mo., early next year.
The airline says it will save $1 million a year by moving the $H center, which it opened two years ago in Hanover near Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The company plans to lease property and equipment that Kansas City acquired at fire-sale prices from the bankrupt Braniff Airlines.
"The decision to make this move is strictly a result of the financial advantages it provides America West," says airline president Michael J. Conway. The company will offer transfers to Kansas City for any Maryland workers able to move.
"This was a total surprise to us. We're very disappointed," says Carol Fox King, a spokeswoman for Maryland's Department of )) Economic and Employment Development.
The airline has no plans to reduce its passenger service at BWI, says Mike Mitchell, a spokesman for the airline.
Until recently, America West was one of the few successful airlines that had been spawned by industry deregulation a decade ago. It began service to BWI in 1987 as part of the !B Phoenix-based airline's expansion from the Southwest.
After struggling through a slump in the travel industry, America West filed in June for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Act.
America West reached Kansas City officials a few months ago when the city was negotiating to buy a building and equipment from Braniff, then in bankruptcy proceedings. The city initially had intended to move its aviation department to the building, situated at the Kansas City International Airport, says John Solomon, director of aviation for Kansas City.
"They [America West] had heard through the grapevine that we were acquiring the property and asked if we would be interested," he said. "It was a very fortuitous event."
Because of the bargain prices the city paid Braniff, America West's lease is very cost-effective, Solomon says. The airline signed a 15-year lease that includes worker retraining and a $200,000 remodeling loan provided by the city.
Anne Arundel County director of Economic Development Sam Minnitte said his office was aware something might occur but was not able to make any counter offers to keep the center.
"It was never an open issue to bid," he said. The county is seeking new tenants for the space.