Arlington County officials say that the recent bankruptcy filing by Arlington-based US Airways will not have a major impact, even though the airline is the county's second-largest employer.
The airline, which employs nearly 2,000 people in the county, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week after management and pilots failed to reach an agreement during concession talks. The airline is trying to reduce costs and has asked for about $800 million in pay and benefit cuts from its four labor groups as part of a $1.5 billion cost-restructuring program.
County Board Chairman Barbara A. Favola (D) said that whatever the outcome of the bankruptcy, "it will not be devastating to the county."
Favola said that even if the airline were to leave its headquarters, she does not think its building would stay vacant for long.
"There will be other opportunities. . . . We have the lowest office vacancy rate in the region," Favola said. "Our location is still very desirable." US Airways' departure would "not have a big effect on the tax base if a new tenant comes in quickly."
"Today's current rental rates are probably higher than what US Airways is paying," she said. In addition, should the airline have to lay off employees, the Washington area is "one of the most recession-proof anywhere," Favola said.
"I'm not making light of it, but if you had to be unemployed, this is not a bad place to be. . . . People would have a good chance as anywhere finding jobs in Northern Virginia," she said.
The county's unemployment rate is 1.6 percent, said Terry Holzheimer, director of business investment for Arlington Economic Development, a county agency.
"We don't anticipate there will be a major unemployment issue regarding US Airways," Holzheimer said.
Holzheimer said that approximately 1,160 of the US Airways jobs are at the airport, and there is little chance those jobs would be lost. The remaining jobs are at the airline's headquarters.
"That personnel will be needed whoever the carrier is," he said. For example, if the troubled airlines were to sell its takeoff and landing slots to another carrier, there would be no problem getting buyers because Reagan National Airport has a larger demand for slots than supply, Holzheimer explained.
"They are very valuable," he said. "If any airline no longer wants to serve at National, they can sell their slots for a lot of money."
The slots are owned by the airlines, said Tom Sullivan of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. The slots are created by Congress and then granted to carriers. The airlines can either sell or lease them to another carrier, he said. Although the airport is in Arlington, it is the property of the federal government, Sullivan said.
Holzheimer said that even if US Airways were to sell or lease the slots to another carrier, its employees would likely keep their jobs.
However, he said he is optimistic that the airline will pull through after discussions with company officials.
"They believe they will successfully emerge from bankruptcy protection and they will find a new successful model to be able to have a long term future," he said.
The company headquarters, currently on Crystal Drive, has been in the county since 1949, said Amy Kudwa, a US Airways spokeswoman.
Kudwa said the company's goal is to reach a "consensual agreement" between management and its unions. However, she said it was still too early to tell whether job employment in Arlington will be affected.
"The management team is working to preserve as many jobs as possible," she said.