When Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines snapped up hometown carrier Northwest in 2008, the Twin Cities were awash in fears that the airline would send jobs to the South.
Those worries were stirred up again late last year when the carrier paid off a loan freeing it from obligations to have at least 10,000 workers in the state.
But Bill Lentsch, senior vice president of Minnesota operations, said the Twin Cities will remain a key part of Delta's operations because of the number of Fortune 500 companies and business travelers in the area.
Delta employs 12,000 people in Minnesota and the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is its second-largest hub, carrying about 80 percent of the passengers. The airline is showing its commitment to the Twin Cities by investing millions in new equipment that will make flying and boarding more efficient at MSP.
While Delta said in June that it will move about 400 training and technical positions to Atlanta to save money, Lentsch said there aren't any plans to move more Minnesota jobs there. Lentsch, a former Northwest employee who now oversees the entire Delta operation at MSP, discussed the airline's plans for the state.
QDelta has made significant technology investments at MSP. What are some of the updates?
A We're doing an overhaul of the control center. There is some older technology and we have made a commitment to invest more than $3 million to put in new consoles that will provide state-of-the-art digital technology for handling all of the different processes.
In conjunction with the airport staff here, we're going to be installing a very extensive camera system because we can't have our eyes everywhere at all times on the operation. We'll have cameras strategically located throughout the airport that will be recording information for those who run our control center and those who manage our operations.
QIn October, Delta had better operational performance compared to a year ago. How did it accomplish this?
AWe had put in place some measures that helped us identify from the time we start boarding to the time that we push an airplane back for its departure ... whether or not we're getting things done on time. For example, our agents on the ramp, have they started to scan and load the bags on the airplane 35 minutes prior to departure? How often are we starting to board the airplane above wing prior to scheduled departure? There are certain tasks that need to be accomplished at a certain time in that process. So just that awareness, and our ability to identify where we might be missing and fixing the problem has been very effective.
QThe National Mediation Board ruled Delta did not interfere with its employees rejecting a union. What has it been like integrating the Northwest employees into Delta?
AOn the ground, we've had employees that have been working side by side for quite some time now, without any issue. It was frustrating for the employees to not have that NMB decision for quite some time. I get a sense of great relief and excitement that it's over, that we know what direction we are going moving forward.
QDelta paid off its loan to the Metropolitan Airports Commission last year, which had required Delta to keep at least 10,000 jobs in Minnesota. Do you foresee any more Minnesota jobs moving to Atlanta?
AWe've made announcements about the training center and the TechOps center, but there are no other plans at this time for consolidation. This is a vital hub in the Delta system and it will always remain a vibrant operation for Delta Air Lines. It's just too valuable to us.
QThe commission's study indicates Delta prices are 27 percent cheaper when it competes with discount airlines, than on Delta-only routes at MSP. Does Delta plan on adjusting its prices as a result of that?
AWe are very comfortable that we are asking a reasonable fare for the level of service that we are providing.
QWhat do you think about the American Airlines Chapter 11 bankruptcy and its impact?
A[We] take a lot of pride that we have done a lot of the heavy lifting and we have gotten ourselves in a [winning] position. While others are struggling, we have gone through that.
QAs someone who started with Northwest, what do you think of the combined company compared to what it was like pre-merger?
AEvery day that goes by, I am thankful I'm on this team. This company has an incredible focus on its people. It has an incredible focus on the customer. Great operational reliability. Good financial discipline. I look at the combination of those things and I look at the other carriers in this business, and there is no team I would rather be on.
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712 Twitter: @striblee