Thursday, 2 August 2012

Delta to close down Comair: A portent of things to come?

Last week Delta Air Lines announced that, “its subsidiary, Comair, Inc. will cease operations after Sept. 29, 2012.”

“Comair” is a formerly-independent “commuter” or “feeder” division of Delta that operates smaller “regional jets” between Delta’s hubs and smaller cities.

Delta claims that “There will be no disruption to customers and no significant adjustments to Delta’s flight schedule or locations served.” Travellers may not have the same opinion as the airline, however, as to what’s a “disruption” or which schedule changes are “significant”.

if you have tickets for future flights on Delta that you know are on Comair or that go to or from any of these airports, check with the airline at periodic intervals for schedule changes (not all schedule changes will be announced immediately or at the same time), and see my FAQ About Changes to Flights and Tickets for what you can do.

At best, Comair regional-jet flights between any given pair of cities will be replaced with a smaller number of flights on more fuel-efficient (per passenger) larger planes. That’s likely to mean longer layovers, earlier departures, and later arrivals for many travellers.

So-called “regional jets” (pioneered by the Soviet Yak-40 and in recent years mostly made by Embraer in São Paulo and by Bombardier in Montréal) have been the fastest-growing segment of airline operations. Jets are perceived as (and sometimes are) more comfortable than turboprops, and smaller jets allow for more frequent service to secondary and tertiary airports.

But small jets burn more fuel (and produce more greenhouse gases) per passenger-mile than either similarly-sized turboprops or larger jets:

“The 50-seat RJ [regional jet] fleet was purchased with a fuel-price assumption of $20 a barrel,” Chief Executive Officer Richard Anderson told Delta employees in a recorded message. “Today, that number is over $100 and the economics simply do not work. It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances because the Comair operations were not sustainable.”

If this analysis is true (as I think it is) and if oil prices have passed their historic low and can only be expended to rise (as I also think they have), Comair’s closing may mark an inflection point in a long-term trend toward fewer and fewer flights between only the largest and wealthiest cities on only the largest and most fuel-efficient planes.

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 2 August 2012, 16:34 ( 4:34 PM)
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