Delta orders drastic cuts of 50-seaters at Comair

 - September 30, 2010, 6:21 AM

Delta Air Lines has directed regional subsidiary Comair to shed more than half of its Bombardier CRJs over the next two years, according to a September 1 memo to employees from Comair president John Bendoraitis. The Cincinnati-based regional airline plans to cut 49 fifty-seat CRJs from next year through 2012, leaving it with 16 fifty-seat CRJ200s, 15 seventy-seat CRJ700s and 13 seventy-six-seat CRJ900s.
Delta began searching for a buyer for Comair not long after the major airline sold Atlanta-based Atlantic Southeast Airlines to SkyWest in 2005. But while Delta more recently succeeded in selling former Northwest Airlink subsidiaries Mesaba and Compass Airlines after its merger with Northwest, Comair would remain the Cincinnati-based airline’s last wholly owned regional subsidiary, largely due to its cost structure.

“To secure our future, we need to operate as a standalone entity,” said Bendoraitis. “We must be able to earn a profit while reducing our operating costs to what the market is willing to pay for our services.”

Plans call for the airline to shed most of the 50-seat jets in time to avoid major maintenance events and engine overhauls, resulting in savings of some $110 million over the next four years. Lease return deadlines will also affect retirement timing. By the end of this year, Comair expects its 50-seat jet fleet to consist of 65 airplanes; it plans to retire 19 of them by the end of next year and another 30 by the end 2012.

A Delta spokesperson told AIN that the major airline plans to replace the flying with a mix of its own single-aisle mainline jets and larger RJs operated by other regional affiliates. “We’ll ­continue to [use larger aircraft for] our domestic flying,” she said. “We’re relying more on our two-class regional jets and our mainline aircraft, which are really preferred by our customers.” Dual-class regional jets in the Delta Connection network consist of 76-seat CRJ900s and Embraer E175s.

Bendoraitis did not reveal a specific number of planned job cuts, only that all departments and areas will feel the effects and that, by the end of 2012, “staffing will be commensurate with what is needed to run a 44-aircraft operation.” He added that he expects the first round of crew furloughs to occur in the second quarter of next year. Comair now employs some 2,500 people. At its peak, in mid-2005, Comair employed 6,700 people and flew 174 CRJ100s, CRJ200s and CRJ700s.
“In the coming weeks” management plans to begin negotiations with the Air Line Pilots Association, the International Association of Machinists and the Teamsters union toward “securing new, competitive agreements,” which Bendoraitis called “critical to our success.”

The memo also raised the prospect of moving the company’s headquarters from its building at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport to a smaller facility in northern Kentucky.