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American Airlines slashes San Juan, retires Saabs, cuts other flights

AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines, announced Tuesday it would cut flights at Chicago O'Hare, Boston, and San Juan, in the first specifics it's disclosed since announcing last week that it would pare flights in the face of staggering fuel costs.

American said it would eliminate its Chicago-Buenos Aires service Sept. 3, Chicago-Honolulu flights Jan. 5, and Boston-San Diego flights Sept. 3. The airline also announced it would slash the size of its San Juan, Puerto Rico, hub and retire the company's Saab 340 turbo-props.

"In the coming weeks, AMR will continue to make additional schedule reductions in other markets," the company said in a release.

AMR said last week it would cut seating capacity on American Airlines 11-12 percent in the fourth quarter, compared to last year's levels. Capacity at American Eagle will decline 10-11 percent.

Monday, officials with American Eagle, American’s regional partner, told employees that San Juan will see some significant reductions.

“Fuel prices have risen so quickly and show no signs of falling, the economy is far from strong, and airline industry losses are mounting,” Peter Bowler, Eagle’s chief executive, told employees in a memo. “I believe the crisis in the airline business is real, and the steps American is taking to reduce its schedule and the schedule it is asking us to fly on its behalf are necessary.”

American will reduce its San Juan schedule on Sept. 3, Bowler said. Eagle also will cut its San Juan departures, to 35 from a planned 55.

Eagle will eliminate two destinations – Samana in the Dominican Republic, and Aruba. Both of those destinations will continue to be served by American from Miami. Eagle will reduce the number of daily departures from San Juan to other cities as well, Bowler said.

In eliminating its Saab 340s, Eagle will move about half of its ATR-72 turbo-props to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport from San Juan, to replace flying done by the Saabs. The ATRs are more fuel-efficient, according to Eagle officials, and have more seats.

Retiring the Saabs also will save training and maintenance costs. Eagle has 35 Saabs and 39 ATRs.

Company officials said it was too early to know how many jobs will be affected. But officials with the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents Eagle pilots, said the Saab retirements alone could cost up to 230 pilot jobs.

Union officials urged the airline to preserve as many jobs as possible.

“Today’s difficult environment offers our management team a unique opportunity to protect the employees who built the world’s greatest regional airline,” said Herb Mark, who heads the union’s Eagle chapter.

Gerard Arpey, chief executive of AMR, said May 21 that the airline would shed thousands of jobs later this year as it cuts back. He said the current level of operations at today’s fuel prices would be unsustainable.

Analysts are predicting a sizeable loss for AMR this year, and the company’s stock has plunged in recent months. Tuesday, the airline’s shares (ticker: AMR) closed at $6.84 per share, up 52 cents.