"We've been talking to airlines about getting to Washington because we recognize that's one of the key places that our growth industries need to get to," said Miner. "But we have not been able to expand our routes down there because the airline industry has been shrinking."
Like the expansion of railroads of the 19th century or interstate highways five decades ago, an ongoing restructuring of U.S. airlines is reshaping the economic fortunes of modern American cities.
The industry overhaul follows decades of overcapacity that produced tens of billions of dollars in red ink. In 2005, a surge in fuel costs grounded that money-losing business model and forced widespread cuts in service to dozens of U.S. airports. That's left travelers in those cities with fewer flights to choose from and higher fares, according to a CNBC.com analysis of traffic data for more than 300 airports.
Among the biggest losers have been cities that were "de-hubbed" as airlines consolidated their core operations in fewer locations.
Pittsburgh's ongoing transformation from a fading, Rust Belt economy to a center for high-tech innovation was dealt a major setback when US Airways wound down its local hub in late 2004, shifting service to Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C. Since 2005, there are now 40 percent fewer seats per day, less than half as many destinations and 15 percent fewer nonstop seats.
"We're not alone: Cincinnati, Memphis, St. Louis—you can go down the list of cities that have lost hubs," said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. "Unless our businesses are able to access the markets they need to grow—both nationally and internationally, it will have a chilling effect on growth over the years if it's not corrected."
But restoring service to pre-2005 levels is a tough slog for local officials trying to convince airlines they can make money by adding more flights.
"You have a group of executives and labor groups who have been to hell and back," said John Heimlich, chief economist of Airlines for America, a trade group. "They know they have to achieve a return. We have seen the results of overcapacity."
A glut of unsold capacity sapped airline industry profits for three decades after the industry's deregulation in the 1970s, as a succession of upstart airlines added millions of new seats and sparked fierce fare wares to win new business. Cheap flights, plenty of empty seats and half-full overhead bins became the norm.
But the business model changed abruptly in 2005 when jet fuel prices began a steep upward climb. With fuel representing as much as a third of the cost of a given flight, those empty seats suddenly got much more costly, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor William Swelbar, who specializes in airline economics.