Delta to shutter regional carrier Comair

A Delta Connection plane approaches Port Columbus airport on Sept. 5, 2011. (Photo by Todd DeFeo / (c) 2011, 2012)

ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines, which is moving to replace smaller, regional aircraft, is shutting down Comair, one of its affiliates that flies under the Delta Connection banner.

Ryan Gumm, president of Cincinnati-based Comair, said in a memo to employees the “discontinuation of Comair’s operations is in no way a failure or a reflection of your work – it is an unfortunate necessity due to the economic limitations of our aging aircraft, cost structure, the long-term outlook for 50-seat aircraft, and our challenging industry and economy.”

Earlier this month, Atlanta-based Delta, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and Boeing Capital Corp. finalized an agreement for Delta to lease 88 Boeing 717s from Southwest. The planes are currently in service at Southwest’s subsidiary AirTran Airways.

Southwest Airlines is planning to spend $100 million on refurbishing the Boeing 717 aircraft.

“Delta recently announced its intent to reduce the overall number of 50-seat regional jets in its network from nearly 350 to 125 or fewer in light of the significant changes in the economic and competitive conditions in the airline industry,” Gumm wrote. “We believed this announcement would have a negative impact on Comair because we operate some of the oldest 50-seat aircraft in the Delta Connection fleet, which also have the highest unit cost per flight hour.

“Delta has decided to remove the remaining 16 Comair 50-seaters from the Delta network, leaving Comair with only 28 aircraft in scheduled service,” Gumm said in his memo. “This further reduction of Comair’s active fleet will only create higher unit costs, which equates to a business model that is no longer sustainable in this competitive regional environment.”

Comair, which accounts for roughly 1 percent of Delta’s capacity, will cease operations on Sept. 29. The company employs 2,500 people.

A wholly owned Delta subsidiary, Comair was created in April 1977. The airline operates 400 daily flights to 70 cities in the United States and Canada; 5.6 million people flew on the airline in 2011.

The airline flies a mix of 50-, 65- and 76-seat Canadair Regional Jets (CRJ), which are manufactured by Bombardier. While initially flying prop planes, the airline started introducing jets in 1993 and began an all-jet operation on Sept. 1, 2002.

Delta said travelers will not see any disruption because of the change.

“While regional flying has and will remain a key component of Delta’s network, customer expectations and the unit costs of regional flying have evolved,” Don Bornhorst, senior vice president of Delta Connection, said in a memo to Delta’s officers and directors.

“In response, Delta recently announced its plans to reduce the total number of regional jets in its network while adding more mainline flying,” Bornhorst added. “This includes reducing the number of 50-seat regional jets from nearly 350 aircraft to 125 or fewer in the upcoming years. As a result of this reduction and changes to its customer-focused business strategy, Delta has made the difficult decision to cease Comair’s operations.”

The complete memo:

Delta recently announced its intent to reduce the overall number of 50-seat regional jets in its network from nearly 350 to 125 or fewer in light of the significant changes in the economic and competitive conditions in the airline industry. We believed this announcement would have a negative impact on Comair because we operate some of the oldest 50-seat aircraft in the Delta Connection fleet, which also have the highest unit cost per flight hour. And, in fact, Delta has decided to remove the remaining 16 Comair 50-seaters from the Delta network, leaving Comair with only 28 aircraft in scheduled service. This further reduction of Comair’s active fleet will only create higher unit costs, which equates to a business model that is no longer sustainable in this competitive regional environment.

I understand that today’s news is very difficult and raises many questions for you and your family. Human Resources is prepared to directly assist you during this time. They will post a memo and other documents on the Human Resources Epic page to keep you informed of the assistance available and to help answer many of your questions. We will also have staff available over the weekend to answer questions if needed. If after reviewing the information on Epic you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to your departmental leadership as well.

The discontinuation of Comair’s operations is in no way a failure or a reflection of your work – it is an unfortunate necessity due to the economic limitations of our aging aircraft, cost structure, the long-term outlook for 50-seat aircraft, and our challenging industry and economy. The quality of our operations has continued to be outstanding during our lengthy restructuring efforts, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to lead such a committed team. I am asking that each of you recognize the importance of remaining focused on safety and the job at hand as we continue operations throughout the wind-down period. Your continued commitment and your dedication to a safe and reliable operation is a testament to the professional team we have built here at Comair.

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