Another Airline Folds: Delta to Shut Down Comair in September


By DAN SEWELL

CINCINNATI -- Delta Air Lines (DAL) is shutting down its shrunken, 35-year-old regional carrier Comair at the end of September as it switches to bigger jets and it is sending termination notices to its 1,700 remaining employees.

Comair is down to 290 flights a day. More than 1,000 Comair employees are in the Cincinnati and northern Kentucky region, some 700 of those in Kentucky.

Comair has slashed its fleet, flights and workforce in the last seven years. Delta said the smaller regional planes are expensive to fly because they are not as fuel-efficient and cost more to maintain as the fleet ages.

"We just really couldn't get the cost structure to where we wanted to get it," said Don Bornhorst, senior vice president of Delta Connection and a former Comair president. "It ultimately was a cost issue; it wasn't a quality issue with Comair. They're a good airline, great employees, very innovative ... we just could not solve the cost issues."

Delta, based in Atlanta, had about 500 of the 50-seat regional jets in 2008 and plans to reduce that to 125 within two years. Most of that flying will be done by new 76-seat jets as well as the 117-seat Boeing 717s that Delta is leasing from Southwest Airlines (LUV).

Delta said Friday that it has stopped flying 16 of the remaining Comair 50-seaters, and will lease the carrier's other 28 planes to other operators. Bornhorst said employees have 60-day termination notices. A small group of employees will remain after the Sept. 29 shutdown to handle details of the closure.

Comair handles only about 1 percent of Delta's flying, so the closure won't result in significant changes to Delta's network. Delta also said it won't mean fewer flights out of Comair's base at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Besides Cincinnati, Comair also has hubs in Detroit and at New York's JFK and LaGuardia airports.

Comair was founded in 1977, flying three propeller-driven Piper Navajo aircraft. It started operating as Delta Connection in 1984 and became a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta in 2000. Comair helped expand the regional jet business when it began flying Bombardier CRJ jets.

"As you can imagine, we're all very sad," said Lynn Dziad, spokeswoman for the Teamsters local that represents more than 400 flight attendants. She marked her 22nd anniversary with Comair just last week. "It's been a wonderful company. A lot of incredible people have worked here."

Kentucky's governor, Steve Beshear, said the Delta action is a blow to the region because of the job losses, and the Democrat called it "terribly disappointing." Kentucky will try to help affected workers, he said in a statement.

"Today's announcement is sad news for Cincinnati, as 300 southwest Ohio families will be looking for new opportunities as Comair ceases operations," Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from the Cincinnati area, said in a statement. He said he has pressed Delta to offer opportunities for impacted workers. He added that Delta has committed to keeping up its Cincinnati area schedule, "which is important for Cincinnati's business community as they look for opportunities to grow and build their businesses across the nation and the world."


Aviation analyst Mike Boyd of The Boyd Group said he expected the Comair shutdown, because the regional airline business doesn't work anymore.

"It's not going to turn around," Boyd said. "Delta is quite correctly saying 'We've got to get rid of these uneconomic airlines.' "

Before entering bankruptcy protection in September 2005, Comair had more than 7,000 employees and 1,160 flights. Comair and Delta emerged from bankruptcy reorganization in April 2007.

Forty-nine people were killed when Comair Flight 5191 crashed on Aug. 27, 2006 in a field near Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, Ky., after trying to take off from a runway that was too short for commercial jets. The National Transportation Safety Board found the pilots failed to notice they were on the wrong runway.

Delta had talked to prospective buyers for Comair, without success. It sold its other regional airlines - Compass and Mesaba - in 2010. Those carriers still operate flights for Delta, as do several other companies.

Shares of Delta Air Lines Inc. rose 3 cents to $9.44 in afternoon trading Friday.

___

Samantha Bomkamp in New York, Brett Barrouquere in Louisville, and Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati contributed.


Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Reading a Stock Quote

Learn to read the ingredients of a stock.

View Course »

Small Cap Investing

Learn now to invest in small companies the right way.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

65 Comments

Filter by:
hyrulenick

Coming from someone who spent Christmas 2004 stranded in Cincinnati, never to make it to my family for the holidays, I say, GOOD RIDDANCE!

August 18 2012 at 1:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
susan

Just another fact that the economy according to Obama is getting better...And the sheep backing him believe him....

July 30 2012 at 3:59 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to susan's comment
Richard

Dang it, Susan. I was making up a comment in my head similar to your's as I read the article. Well said, Susan, well said.

July 30 2012 at 8:59 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
ectullis

How could that be? Afterall the private sector is doing just fine.

July 29 2012 at 11:19 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
loststar1969

Comair? Never heard of it.

July 29 2012 at 10:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mypathoflight

Delta has done nothing but screw over Cincinnati and the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport for years. They kept competition out while keeping our fares among the highest in the country. Cincinnati is world headquarters to Proctor and Gamble, Kroger's, Macy's, and several other Fortune 500 Companies. Our airport has vast unused space because of Delta abandoning Cincinnati as a hub. Hopefully another airline such as Southwest will step up to the plate and deliver to Cincinnati what we really need: Quality, reliable air service.

July 29 2012 at 9:15 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mypathoflight's comment
hyrulenick

Wonder if the Christmas 2004 debacle and the computer system crash had anything to do with the airline's downfall?

August 18 2012 at 1:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JOSE-USMC-0311

WHY CAN'T OUR GOVERNMENT GIVE THOSE AIR LINE IN TROUBLE A TAX BREAK ???? NO TAXES FOR 2 YEARS.....I DON'T WANT TO SEE MORE AMERICANS COLLECTING UNEMPLOYMENT AND WELFARE.

July 29 2012 at 6:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to JOSE-USMC-0311's comment
susan

Jose, Obama only buys out wallstreet and the big car makers, airlines dont fit into his agenda..He doesnt care about the middle class heading for food stamps or welfare, 43% are on the government supported progeam,,,This is what he wants, soon we will be given gas stamps, by the government to be able to get to our government funded jobs.

July 30 2012 at 4:02 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
DRILLER

Another Kudo for Deregulation!
NO airlines failed prior to deregulation, all Have happened Since.
Same with Banks.
Same with Mortgage lending Companies.
The Only folks helped by deregulation are the thieves.

July 29 2012 at 1:30 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
jberta4079

don't delta know we have been in recovery in the last three years!? Oh right recovery from UUUHHMMMMM what a cold? certianly not the recession!

July 29 2012 at 1:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jberta4079's comment
biggwill2100

its all bush's fault

July 29 2012 at 2:22 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to biggwill2100's comment
Richard

The problem comes because we've given the President 3-1/2 to fix it and absolutely nothing has been done. In fact, we are worse off today then when Obama took over.

July 30 2012 at 9:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down
koos458

Delta came up with a more profitable, cattle-hauling business model and everyone has to get all politically rabid about it. Get a frickin' life.

July 29 2012 at 1:21 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
sgentilejr

Romney is in Israel right now cutting secret deals with the Jews in exchange for campaign donations. Secret foreign banks accounts, secret meetings, secret tax returns. Maybe Romney should be running the Secret Service.

July 29 2012 at 1:49 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to sgentilejr's comment