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A Comair plane in Kentucky. Delta Air Lines said Friday that it will close Comair this year and reduce its regional fleet of smaller planes within two years.

Tom Uhlman, Associated Press - Ap

Delta to close Comair commuter unit

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS
  • Star Tribune
  • July 27, 2012 - 11:05 PM

The era of the 50-seat regional jet is coming to a close, with a decision by Delta Air Lines to shutter its commuter subsidiary Comair.

The move is a cost-saving step designed to remove some of Delta's oldest, most expensive planes from its fleet. It also comes at a time when Delta and other airlines are attempting to control capacity to keep airfares high.

The airline said it will have minimal, if any, effect on travelers using Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. With about two dozen departures a day, Cincinnati-based Comair is a small player in a Twin Cities market that daily handles 600 commercial departures.

Morever, Delta has indicated that Comair seats and services will be assumed by other regional carriers that are part of the Delta Connection partnership, said Metropolitan Airports Commission spokeswoman Melissa Scovronski.

"There will be no disruption to customers and no significant adjustments to Delta's flight schedule or locations served," said Don Bornhorst, senior vice president of Delta Connection, in a memo.

A recent forecast by Carlson Wagonlit Travel noted that the Twin Cities market was particularly vulnerable to capacity control issues because of Delta's 80 percent service domination in the Twin Cities. The forecast said average fare hikes next year for MSP would be in the 5.4 percent to 7.9 percent range compared with 2.8 percent in the rest of North America.

Comair operates 44 aircraft, 16 of which are expensive-to-fly 50 seaters that will be retired when Comair ceases operations on Sept. 29. None of those 50 seaters, known as CRJ 100s, is on routes out of the Twin Cities.

"We operate some of the oldest 50 seat aircraft in the Delta Connection fleet, which also have the highest unit cost per flight hour," said Comair President Ryan Gumm in a letter to employees.

Delta has said it plans to reduce its 50-seater fleet from 350 to 125 over the next two years.

Closing Comair also gets Delta out of the struggling regional airline business. It previously sold its Mesaba and Compass regional carriers to other airlines.

"It's an extremely tough business," said aviation consultant Ernie Arvai. "With the cost of fuel and the cost of operations, it takes more to fly a 50-seater than the cost of an average airfare."

Arvai, president of the Arvai Group, said airlines are now embracing 90-seat and 100-seat aircraft for regional duties.

Comair's remaining 28 aircraft are classified as dual class, meaning they have first class as well as coach seating, and will be transferred to other Delta Connection partners, said Delta spokeswoman Kristin Baur.

All Comair flights now serving the Twin Cities are dual class CRJ 700s and CRJ 900s, and will remain in the market under the auspices of another Delta Connection partner, Baur said.

Comair offers service to destinations such as New York and San Antonio out of the Twin Cities.

The regional carrier's principal routes are in the eastern half of the United States, including Boston, New York, Detroit, Atlanta, Memphis and Washington.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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