Scott: Look at the mergers which ultimately formed today's US Airways from several smaller carriers: Allegheny, with strength in Pittsburgh and the heart of its operations in Pennsylvania, merged with both Lake Central, based in Indianapolis and routes in the Midwest, and Mohawk, based in Utica and with routes in NY and New England. USAir in 1980 had the vast majority of its operations in the Northeast and Midwest. Piedmont, with its original base in Charlotte, purchased Syracuse-based Empire and opened hubs at Dayton and Baltimore, forming another airline with the bulk of its operations in the Northeast and Midwest, as well as the Southeast.
Jim: All of these airlines, in my view, could have been bought out by larger airlines, with better network distribution and better CSM's, had they wanted to. The Northeast is not easy money except on the DCA-LGA-BOS shuttle routes, and it seems to me the majors simply wanted to go after easier money elsehwere. Yes, USAir was profitable, but its costs were high and no one wanted the challenge of integrating them.
Mohawk would have been a good fit for Eastern or American, feeding LaGuardia. Allegheny would have been a good fit for United, feeding traffic north/south and westwards. Piedmont would have been a very good fit for American or United had they wanted to buy. In all cases, these carriers had the financial strength to outbid the USAir glom had they wanted to.
Scott: The merger between USAir and Piedmont, in my opinion, was less about building an airline with a broad route network and more about subsuming a competitor which had been taking passengers away in USAir's core markets. And the PSA merger was poorly thought-out; there was simply no logical fit between the route networks.
Jim: Absolutely. God forbid that two network airlines in the Northeast actually compete for regional mainline traffic at BUF, ROC, SYR, ALB, BDL, PVD etc, and offer consumers lower fares and high seat capacity. It's much easier to run a monopoly and slash service and hike fares, which is what the merged US Air did after the settlement agreement with the NY Attorney General ran out. Reagan should have put his foot down on the disastrous late '80s consolidation, but there it is.
Scott: How could USAir have been anything but a regional carrier with its greatest strengths in the Northeast? After all, with the exception of PSA, the carriers which formed it all had hubs (or the bulk of their operations) north of Charlotte and east of Indinanapolis.
Jim: Had the US Air pieces been bought by other carriers, they would have fed and been fed by larger and lower-cost nationwide route systems. Think of what Charlotte could have done for Dick Ferris' United in the 1980's, or how it could have save Crandall's AA the RDU debacle.
Scott: USAirways' strength in the Northeast and East also resulted from weathering the turmoil and shakeouts in the industry from deregulation until the mid-1990's. Eastern was a large presence in Boston, New York, Atlanta, and Florida - and they failed. National had a significant presence on the East Coast and became part of the Pan Am debacle. Air Florida failed after its meteoric rise (and equally spectacular post-crash decline). Texas Air/Continental withdrew from the La Guardia market as part of its retrenchment. TWA's JFK hub went through a protracted decline. And many of the other major airlines (like United, American, and Delta) began focusing their attention on their strongest hubs, which also happen to enjoy better geography and demographics than US Airways' hubs.
Jim: But none of these airlines ever offered *regional point to point service among medium and small-size cities in the Northeast, and from those cities to major markets.* Eastern shuttled high-fare business pax between megalopoleses, and fed people to Atlanta and Florida. Air Florida shuttled people to Florida. National never darkened a single tarmac in Upstate New York or western Pennsylvania or Ohio. National really existed to feed a cross-country network on the I-10 corridor and NY-FLorida. American dropped its Upstate NY-LGA service in 1981 to chase easier money at DFW.
And Continental only settled on Newark by historical accident. Had Don Burr managed People Express better and kept its product quality up, I'm convinced that it would be thriving today as a low-fare carrier flying A320's or 738's. And CO flies far fewer regional pax in the Northeast than People ever did. From Rochester, CO flies four measly ERJ's a day to EWR and four measly ATR's to CLE; People flew five Boeings on ROC-EWR, usually 2 731's and 3 732's. At one point in 1986 People flew EIGHT boeings on ROC-EWR. Do the seat capacity math for yourself.
Scott: Not to mention that there are very few airports in the Northeast which are even suitable as hubs from the standpoints of population, geography, and operational suitability.
Jim: Those suitable hub airports could easily be in the hands of strong national-network oligopoly carriers today had they wanted them. CLT could be AA, PIT could be UA, PHL could be NW, etc. The other airlines didn't want them and let them congeal into the USAir blob.
Need a new airline paint scheme? Better call Saul! (Bass that is)