Comair to lay off workers and halve fleet by 2012
Delta's Comair plans layoffs; will cut its fleet in half over next 2 years
Comair, a regional airline owned by Delta Air Lines Inc., said on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2010, that it will cut its fleet by more than half and reduce staffing over the next two years because its costs are higher than competitors.
Lisa Cornwell, Associated Press Writer, On Wednesday September 1, 2010, 5:16 pm EDT
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Comair, a regional airline owned by Delta Air Lines Inc., said on Wednesday that it will shrink its fleet by more than half and reduce staff over the next two years to cut costs.
Comair President John Bendoraitis told employees in a memo Wednesday that the regional airline, based in Erlanger, Ky., will get rid of most of its aging, less-efficient 50-seat jets and keep its bigger 65-seat and 76-seat jets.
The airline plans to shrink its fleet of 97 planes to 44 by the end of 2012. Trimming the fleet should save Comair about $110 million over the next four years, Bendoraitis said. He said most of Comair's 50-seat jets are leased and those being retired will go back to aircraft leasing companies.
Bendoraitis says Comair's current cost structure remains about 20 percent higher than its peers on a cost-per-hour basis.
"The actions we are taking are the steps we need to put in place to be successful going forward in a competitive market," Bendoraitis said in the telephone interview.
Comair begins contract negotiations soon with pilots, flight attendants, and mechanics, and will seek "new, more competitive agreements," the airline said. Bendoraitis said he couldn't comment in detail on what Comair hopes to get from the unions. Over 1,000 pilots, 700 flight attendants and 400 mechanics at Comair are union members.
Jim Samuel, an official with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers representing Comair's mechanics, said his first reaction to the cuts was "sheer surprise."
While Comair did not give specific numbers of workers to be cut, Samuel thinks it is likely to be about half the work force.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents Comair's flight attendants, said it wants a say in staffing cuts.
"Comair is a good airline whose future can be as promising as its past," local president Connie Slayback said in a statement. "Together we can ensure that Comair remains a successful and profitable airline."
Delta owned three feeder airlines earlier this year -- Comair, Mesaba and Compass. Mesaba and Compass were acquired along with Northwest Airlines in 2008. Delta sold Mesaba and Compass in July, though they still carry Delta passengers under the Delta Connection name.
Asked whether the cuts announced Wednesday indicate a move toward winding down or selling Comair, Delta spokeswoman Kristin Baur said: "We've stated previously that we don't need to own our flying partners in our portfolio in order to derive value from them, and we continue to explore alternatives."
Baur said the Comair cuts won't "directly result in any changes to Cincinnati's flight schedule or any of the locations served."
Comair has about 2,600 employees and operates more than 400 flights a day to about 70 cities in the U.S., Canada and the Bahamas.
Comair, with its main hub at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, has been a Delta Connection partner since 1984 and became a wholly owned subsidiary in 2000. Comair had more than 7,000 employees and 1,160 flights before entering bankruptcy protection. Comair and Delta both emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2007.
Delta shares rose 22 cents, or 2.1 percent, to close at $10.68.
Business Writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed.