Mayor Nutter and Sen. Arlen Specter met yesterday with airline officials to discuss the prospects of more commercial and retail development around Philadelphia International Airport.

The gathering at City Hall was part of what officials called a broader effort by city and business leaders to transform the city-owned airport that already has undergone many recent changes into something much grander: an "aerotropolis" surrounded by offices, shops and restaurants.

Specter also said he was concerned about flight delays and baggage-handling problems and was prepared to introduce federal legislation to deal with such issues if the Federal Aviation Administration "won't handle or can't handle it."

Nutter said he brought the local airline operators together to seek cooperation in improving airport operations, parking, baggage-handling, customer service, working conditions, and air-traffic issues.

Nutter, Specter, and airport managers met with representatives from US Airways, Southwest, American, Delta, United, AirTran, Continental, Air France and United Parcel Service.

The airline representatives offered no comment after the meeting. One of the companies, US Airways, has complained bitterly about the allocation and number of gates given to the airline, an issue Nutter has said he would review.

Rina Cutler, Nutter's new deputy mayor for transportation, has identified the airport as "a top priority."

"Airports have the ability to generate entire cities around them," Cutler said this week at the annual meeting of the Central Philadelphia Development Corp.

John Kasarda, creator of the "aerotropolis" concept of an airport as a city unto itself, met last month with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's CEO Council for Growth, preaching his vision of airports as magnets for economic development.

Kasarda suggested Philadelphia look to Dallas, Hong Kong and Amsterdam, where business complexes in and around the airports generate more revenue for the airports than do flight operations.

He urged a rewriting of the master plan for the airport that would call for setting aside land around the airport for its expansion into an airport city, rather than a city airport.

He told the business leaders that local "CEOs will have to be much more forceful in supporting Philadelphia International Airport to make this happen."

Nutter said Philadelphia International should be "a model airport in its own right. . . . I want other cities to emulate us."

The mayor said the city needed a "30,000-foot view of the airport . . . so we have a plan for where it's going 5, 10, 15 years from now."

Specter said he plans to hold a public hearing in the Philadelphia area on April 25 about another contentious airport issue - the additional noise that some residents say the FAA's new departure paths have created over parts of Delaware County.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or