Some customer-service employees and baggage and ground handlers at the Hilton Head Island Airport could be out of a job or working for a different company by mid-November.
US Airways, Hilton Head's lone commercial carrier, will switch ground-handling services from Piedmont Airlines to Air Wisconsin Airlines. The change was based on competitive bidding and "was an economical decision," according to a US Airways spokeswoman.
Commercial flights from the island will still operate as they do now, with Dash 8 turboprop planes operated by Piedmont Airlines crews, spokeswoman Liz Landau said.
"There should not be noticeable differences to customers," Landau said.
Air Wisconsin will discuss possible job opportunities for the 23 airport employees affected by the change on Hilton Head. The jobs would not be guaranteed, Landau said.
"We will work with employees who wish to relocate and continue active employment with the company," she said. "Those who choose to take furlough status will be provided with furlough benefits."
Piedmont is a wholly owned subsidiary of US Airways Group Inc. It and Air Wisconsin are among 10 airlines doing business as US Airways Express.
Air Wisconsin also provides ground-handling services for United Airlines.
"We are not pulling out of (Hilton Head), and we know how important the air service is on the island," Landau said. "We don't like making a decision like this, but are always assessing ways to reduce costs and improve productivity to remain a competitive airline."
The change to Air Wisconsin affects 55 Piedmont employees, including some in Williamsport, Pa., and Huntington, W.Va., Landau said.
Beaufort County administrator Gary Kubic reiterated the switch to Air Wisconsin is "an internal operation change by US Airways" and will not impact scheduled service at the airport, which the county owns.
US Airways also has begun merger talks with American Airlines after signing a nondisclosure agreement Aug. 31 with American's parent company, AMR Corp.
The agreement allows the two carriers to exchange confidential and financial information and "work in good faith to evaluate a potential combination," the carriers said in a joint statement.
US Airways CEO Doug Parker told employees the agreement "does not mean we are merging -- it simply means we have agreed to work together to discuss and analyze a potential merger."
The carriers said they do not expect to provide updates on the status of discussions until a deal is reached or talks fail.