Delta Air Lines has unveiled plans to consolidate the customer service operations of its three wholly-owned regional airlines, Comair, Mesaba and Compass, in a move that will create one of the country's largest regional ground handling operators.

The US major, which merged with Northwest Airlines last year, intends to create a new "regional handling subsidiary" that will assume oversight of all airport ticket counter, gate and baggage handling services in about 100 primarily small-and medium-sized airports currently managed by Comair and Mesaba.

The new subsidiary, called Regional Handling Services (RHS), will be responsible for ensuring a higher level of consistency at Delta Connection-staffed airports throughout the United States, says Delta Connection senior VP Don Bornhorst.

Delta's new RHS team will be headquartered alongside Delta Connection in Minneapolis and will be led by Comair veteran Don Stephens.

In addition to leading about 4,100 airport customer service employees from these three airlines, Stephens' team will also hold oversight of airport customer service functions for 170 airport locations handled by Delta Connection ground handling partners nationwide.

Comair, Mesaba and Compass will continue to be based at their respective headquarters, and their pilots, flight attendants and mechanics will still report to their respective airlines.

"When fully operational in the third quarter of 2009, RHS will be an industry leader serving as one of the nation's largest regional ground handling operators," says Bornhorst.

"New efficiencies created by RHS' size, scope and combined buying and contracting power will contribute to the $2 billion in annual revenue and cost synergies expected from our merger with Northwest. Synergies will be driven from competitive contract bidding, optimized ground handling equipment utilization, streamlined training, reduced overhead expense and increased insourcing opportunities."

As there is minimal overlap of the Comair and Mesaba ground handling networks, Delta anticipates "no involuntary frontline reductions for employees of Comair and Mesaba as a result of the creation of RHS, with any staffing adjustments expected to be managed through attrition and voluntary programmes", says Bornhorst.

A Delta spokesman says the consolidation is not expected to have much impact on Compass employees' jobs. "If there is any impact to them, Compass will look to offer other opportunities or a severance package," he says.

Additionally, the creation of the subsidiary is expected to have no impact to Delta or Northwest mainline jobs.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news