The airline's Minnesota chief says the new headquarters shows Delta's commitment to the state.
Delta Air Lines officially opened its new "Delta North" headquarters Friday, putting Northwest Airlines another step closer to extinction.
Delta has vacated the former NWA headquarters in Eagan and moved into the just-remodeled former Republic Airlines building that sits south of the Humphrey terminal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. About 760 employees work in the 63,000-square-foot building, which includes customer service, reservations and regional affiliate Compass Airlines. Cost to renovate: $9.3 million.
It's one of the final steps toward completing the "Deltafication" of Northwest after the Atlanta-based airline purchased Northwest in October 2008. Delta had been operating Northwest as a subsidiary until the Federal Aviation Administration approved a single-operating certificate on Dec. 31, 2009.
Bill Lentsch, Delta's senior vice president for Minnesota operations, told the gathered crowd of employees and officials that the new headquarters underscores Delta's commitment to its employees and the state of Minnesota. He later answered questions from the Star Tribune. The answers have been edited for space.
Q How many NWA/Delta employees are here in Minnesota? Any expectations that the number will be reduced? [In an agreement with the Metropolitan Airports Commission a year ago, Delta committed to keep at least 10,000 jobs in Minnesota through 2016.]
A We're in the process of finalizing those numbers right now because we're required to report those on an annual basis to the state of Minnesota. We haven't finalized the number yet, but it's well north of 12,000. With the migration of a lot of the functions into this building now ... and making our way through many of these milestones in the integration, there [is] still ... going to be some ebb and flow ... [but] I think we're starting to find our long-term steady-state point of employment. Depending on what functions move where and what the business looks like, that number may swell or contract a little bit. But we're starting to find our groove on the number of employees in the state.
Q Do you expect to cut or add any routes out of MSP?
A Not that I am aware of. We have a commitment of, on average, at least 400 daily operations out of Minneapolis. There's no concern about our ability to maintain that commitment. One thing I would highlight is that starting later this year, we are going to be adding service to Paris out of Minneapolis seasonally and evaluate whether that would be year-round.
Q What's the importance of the new headquarters?
A It demonstrates the commitment to the employees that Delta is going to be very involved in this community and is going to be fortifying this hub in Minneapolis and is making a long-term investment in them. Secondly, it demonstrates we're going to maintain a significant level of flying operations and a large employee base here in the state of Minnesota.
Q What's the status of the former headquarters in Eagan?
A It's still for sale. There might be a small number of payroll personnel over there because we did not want to disrupt those systems. But for all intents and purposes, it's a vacant building as far as the airline goes.
Q When will all signs of Northwest be gone? What's still left to do?
A We've rebranded all of our airports. By the end of the first quarter, all of the mainline airplanes will be painted in Delta livery. All of the interiors will have been upgraded to the Delta livery, where we're going to do that. We are in the process of going through the final stages of cutting all of the pre-merger Northwest tickets that had been advance-sold over to Delta. So the Northwest tickets will go away sometime here in the near future. That's what we call inventory cut-over to a single system. Sometime in the first quarter or maybe second quarter, the website will be migrating away from NWA.com to Delta.com. So it's going to be still in some bits and pieces, but sometime mid-year.
Q What has been the biggest challenge of the past year?
A I think for me personally and for those of us who are here in Minnesota, the biggest challenge is connecting the Delta brand and the Delta family to the community. We had a lot of Northwest presence in the community, and Delta remains committed to that level of community involvement. But as we've had a lot of transitioning of people, [the challenge is] keeping those contacts in the community, keeping those contacts with the legislators and letting them know that we are here and committed to this community just as Northwest was.
Q NWA has been such an integral part of Minnesota for so long. Is there a twinge of nostalgia or sadness from a community standpoint as it fades away?
A It's easy for me to relate to that because I am a former Northwest leader, employee. When you look at the way Delta has led the airline business through this difficult economic time, what it has made as far as commitments to employees, we still, as a result of this merger, have laid off no front-line employees and don't plan to lay off front-line employees at a time other carriers are. The Northwest history is something that we're all proud of and we're all fond of, but I think the excitement that comes along with being part of the biggest and the greatest airline in the world is something that is just overwhelmingly positive and wipes all that other stuff away.
Suzanne Ziegler • 612-673-1707