Sunday, June 24, 2012

Southwest outsourcing RIC ground workers' jobs

By: PETER BACQU? | Richmond Times-Dispatch

Southwest Airlines is outsourcing the jobs of 12 AirTran Airways employees who load planes at Richmond International Airport.

The workers, who handle airliners "below the wing" on the aircraft parking ramp at the terminal, have been offered transfers to eight other AirTran stations, according to Southwest spokesman Paul Flaningan in Dallas.

He could not say how many of the workers, whose jobs at RIC will end Aug. 15, had opted to transfer to another station.

"The deadline for impacted employees to make a decision is July 2," Flaningan said, and it "would be premature to confirm any number until that deadline passes."

Ramp outsourcing is not new at RIC, where more than half of the air-carrier flights use non-airline ramp contractors, according to the Capital Region Airport Commission.

AirTran uses contract "rampers" at some of its smaller stations, Flaningan said. The changes are not expected to affect AirTran's customer service agents at RIC.

Southwest bought AirTran, a smaller low-cost carrier, in 2011.

While the schedule for transitioning from AirTran to long-sought Southwest service here is "fluid," Flaningan said, "We are committed to Richmond. This is a business decision that was made with an eye to long-term viability and profitability of that station."

AirTran now has five daily flights at RIC ? four to and from Atlanta and one to Orlando ? and carries about 10 percent of the airport's 3.2 million annual passengers.

Officials expect that Southwest's entry into the Richmond market will expand the number of destinations conveniently available to RIC passengers while helping hold down ticket prices.

Southwest says its average passenger fare is $141.72 one-way, and the average passenger trip length is 939 miles.

The ramp-worker outsourcing at RIC should not be linked to Southwest's eventual service in Richmond, Flaningan said.

Troy Bell, Richmond International's director of marketing and air service development, concurred, saying "the impact on service and schedule is, in my opinion, essentially neutral."

"You can pretty much bet on Richmond being a major Southwest city," aviation consultant Michael Boyd, president of Boyd Group International in Evergreen, Colo., said. "That's one gold mine they're not going to abandon."

Southwest has relatively high labor costs, the airline as well as industry analysts say, while the competing legacy airlines have gone through bankruptcies and been able to reduce labor expenses, putting pressure on the Dallas-based Southwest to make reductions.

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