Readying the airport expansion for take-off

The plan to expand Philadelphia International Airport hasn’t been cleared for take-off yet, but further talks between the Mayor Nutter and major-player US Airways offer welcome, renewed hope.

Officially, the mayor and the airlines remain on opposite sides of the key issue of whether the airlines should be required to fund a costly new runway that the city insists is needed to ease delays, especially in bad weather.

US Airways carries the most passengers at Philadelphia International. MATT YORK / Associated Press

US Airways chief executive Doug Parker, who last week made a second trip to Philadelphia to huddle with Nutter, contends that officials at the city-owned airport eventually will be convinced the $3 billion runway should wait. The mayor, meanwhile, says through a spokesman that the expansion plans haven’t changed.

But other progress has been reported, and that’s a good sign.

It’s certainly a breakthrough that the city has withdrawn its threat to impose rates on the airlines by city ordinance, rather than negotiating new leases.

Such a high-handed approach could have backfired badly if US Airways, with the most local flights, and competitors like Southwest Airlines responded by trimming service to Philadelphia. Now, Parker and Nutter need to deliver on their joint pledge to work out a new, 15-year lease.

On the runway issue, the airline companies, whose leases with the city cover most airport costs, make a compelling case that — even with a fifth runway — flight delays won’t be resolved until the Federal Aviation Administration steps in to deal with the region’s congested airspace.

It’s not only the cost of the runway that’s a concern, but also the fact that it will force another major player — United Parcel Service — to move from a location UPS sys it wants to keep.

While the additional runway remains the thorniest issue, it’s worth noting that other improvements — from a renovated commuter terminal to a new rental-car facility are fully supported by the airlines.

Building on that spirit of cooperation is what’s needed.