Originally created 09/25/01

Augusta airport plans to slash employment



With fewer planes flying and less people riding, Augusta Regional Airport will cut nearly a third of its staff before Christmas, Augusta Aviation Commission members announced Monday.

Blaming layoffs on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the airport board voted unanimously to start reducing its workforce, a recommendation that must receive the final approval of the Augusta Commission.

"There is nothing I would prefer to be announcing more than adding another airline, which was a possibility 15 days ago," aviation board Chairwoman Marci Wilhelmi told a committee of Augusta commissioners on Monday.

But with airlines cutting flights and fewer passengers flying, the airport board determined that layoffs are necessary to keep costs from overrunning revenues.

The airport staff of 98 needs to be reduced to deal with the impact of the recent attacks, Airport Director Ken Kraemer said.

"Osama bin Laden has changed the landscape out there. With reduced flights, with reduced number of passengers, that is translating into reduced revenues," Mr. Kraemer said.

City policy requires that employees be given 60 days' notice before a layoff. Although the final approval of the layoff is pending, airport workers received a letter Monday, signed by Ms. Wilhelmi, letting them know positions will be reduced "in significant magnitude according to operating demand."

Two Augusta Commission committees - public services and administrative services - unanimously approved the aviation commission's recommendation to lay off workers. The full commission must approve the item at its Oct. 4 meeting for it to take effect.

Mr. Kraemer said the next few days will be spent talking with airport staff directors - from landscaping to security to janitorial - to see which areas can be cut.

Many airlines have cut back their capacity by 20 percent, airport spokeswoman Kathryn Solee said.

Ms. Wilhelmi said the airport expects the airport's passenger numbers - known as enplanements - to shrink to about half what it was a year ago.

"If you put a pencil to how many seats we have lost out of market, our enplanements are cut in half - 109,000 passengers," she said. "And that is before Delta takes any more out of the market."

Delta Air Lines is expected to lay off 20 to 30 percent of their force, Ms. Wilhelmi said. "(That) will mean that we don't have 20 or 30 percent of the people flying jets in here to serve our public."

Airport officials plan to help displaced workers find other employment through the county government, temporary agencies or the Labor Department, aviation commission member Sheila Johnson said. Families will be given counseling if needed, she said.

Officials will examine whether some of the job cuts can be handled through attrition. There are currently 98 authorized positions at Augusta Regional Airport with 11 of those vacant.

Even after a 30 percent cut, more layoffs could be necessary, Ms. Wilhelmi said.

"I believe Mr. bin Landen has put us on the tread mill, and we will have to convene a meeting with department heads to establish mission statements, re-engineer job descriptions and figure out how it is we are going to do the same amount of work with less," she said.

On Saturday, US Airways Express cut two flights from its daily schedule in Augusta. The two flights were at noon and 8:30 p.m.

However, Ms. Solee said Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a Delta Connection carrier, plans to continue operating their Augusta-Atlanta return service at full schedule.

"But everything is subject to change," she said.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh or Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 828-3851.