As traffic upturn stalls, airlines are reducing fleets and slashing routes and staff in an effort to increase revenues

More US carriers have unveiled further capacity cuts as the traffic recovery slows up. Some of the actions will have immediate effect, while others will take up to a year or more to be fully implemented.

Continental Airlines is to park an additional 11 Boeing MD-80s by the end of 2003, but hopes to avoid further job cuts as it moves to stem continuing losses. Continental says removal of the MD-80s, in addition to the 49 aircraft already grounded since September last year, will reduce its domestic mainline jet capacity in August 2003 by 17% compared with August 2001. For all of 2003, capacity will be down 4% from 2002, which is down 6.5% from 2001. The airline expects cuts and other measures to increase revenues and result in a pre-tax contribution of $80 million for the rest of this year, and $350 million a year when fully implemented.

The carrier operates 34 MD-80s and as recently as July planned to increase this to 36 by returning grounded aircraft to service. The latest cut will reduce the fleet to 23 by the end of next year. The only new aircraft Continental is due to receive between now and the end of next year are four Boeing 737-800s in 2003.

ATA, meanwhile, has announced plans to retire its 12 Lockheed L-1011 TriStars from scheduled services to reduce capacity and cut costs. Beginning next month, scheduled flights will be flown by the Indianapolis-based carrier's 25 Boeing 737-800s and 25 757-200/300s.Some of the L-1011s will be retained for US military charter work. ATA cut capacity by 20% after 11 September, retiring its Boeing 727s, but continued deliveries of new aircraft have increased capacity.

As part of its bankruptcy restructuring, US Airways has announced it will cut 200 of its 1,550 daily flights by the end of the year. The fleet will also be cut back to 280 aircraft from the current 311. Five hundred pilots will also be laid off by March 2003 - over 1,000 pilots have already lost their jobs with US Airways.

Delta Air Lines' low-fare arm Delta Express, which serves routes from north-east and mid-west USA to Florida, is to phase out its fleet of 36 737-200s by late next year and transfer them back to the mainline operation. Although a replacement has not been revealed, it is reported that Delta is considering replacing them with 757s.

The airline declines to comment on the leaked internal memo detailing the 757 move, but says information on the revised Delta Express strategy will be unveiled around the end of the year. Delta partner Chatauqua may take up some of the slack on Florida routes using Embraer ERJ-140/145s.

Source: Flight International