Delta feeder Comair to cease operations

Washington DC
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Comair Inc. will cease operations after 29 September as parent Delta Air Lines continues to overhaul its regional carrier network.

The future of the largely Bombardier CRJ100 and CRJ200 operator has been questioned for months. Delta had whittled Comair's 50-seat jet fleet from 68 aircraft in September 2010 to 16 aircraft by August.

A labour agreement with Delta's pilots that was concluded in June also raised doubts about the future of Comair's 15 70-seat CRJ700s and 13 76-seat CRJ900s, as they appeared to be potential sweeteners for Delta to reduce the number of 50-seat jets at its other contract carriers.

"While regional flying has and will remain a key component of Delta's network, customer expectations and the unit cost of regional flying have evolved," Delta says. Comair's pending closure comes as Delta continues the process of reducing the 50-seat jets in its regional network from 350 to up to 125, the mainline carrier says.

That decision required Comair to reduce its 50-seat fleet to 16 aircraft. More recently, Delta decided to remove even the last 16, leaving the carrier with only 28 larger jets, which created an unsustainable cost structure, says Comair president Ryan Gumm in an email to employees today, which was released by Delta.

Comair's business model is "no longer sustainable in this competitive regional environment," Gumm says.

"Comair has been facing headwinds for quite some time, including a rapidly changing industry, rising fuel costs, and the entry of lower cost DCI providers," says the Air Line Pilots Association Comair master executive council in a statement. "As a pilot group, we put up a valiant fight, but in the end, we were not able to overcome these external forces."

There is speculation now that the regional carrier's larger regional jets could be shifted to GoJet, which is known to have some of the lowest pilot costs per block hour in the industry, and SkyWest Inc.

Delta also has agreements with several regional independent regional carriers, including SkyWest Inc., Pinnacle Airlines, TransStates and Republic Airways.