June 24, 2008

Delta Drops University Park Flights

By Jennifer Thomas, The Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa.

Jun. 24--Delta Air Lines will discontinue its flights between the University Park Airport and Cincinnati as of Sept. 1, an airport official confirmed Monday.

The flights were through Comair, a Delta Connection partner, and had served the airport since 2003.

Rising fuel costs and fewer passengers -- the flights were about 70 percent full -- led to the cut, which is a part of Delta's strategy "to reduce select flights that cannot be profitable in light of the unprecedented rise in fuel prices experienced in the last year," the airline said in a news release.

Charles Welch, director of the Centre County Airport Authority, said airline representatives were in town Monday to share their decision.

"You could kind of see it coming," he said.

The absence of Delta -- the airline eliminated round-trip flights to Atlanta in May -- will hurt the airport financially, such as in the landing fees it takes in and the number of rental cars leased out, Welch said.

"We don't have to close the doors, but it's a big loss," he said.

In recent weeks, Delta offered two round-trip flights to Cincinnati daily -- down from three earlier in the year, Welch said. Delta recently announced plans to trim its domestic flights by 13 percent this year, while shifting more aircraft to international routes.

The capacity on the Cincinnati flights during the first quarter of the year was slightly more than 70 percent. The passenger capacity would have had to be more than 100 percent to pay for the costs associated with the flight.

"It's not profitable," Welch said. It was not immediately known how the Delta-Northwest Airlines merger might affect the airport's service, Welch said. Northwest offers two round-trip flights daily to Detroit, down from four daily flights about three years ago.

Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott said the cuts affect just Delta flights at this time.

Welch said he doesn't expect the airport's other regional jet service providers, US Airways Express to Philadelphia, United Express to Washington- Dulles or Northwest Airlink to cut their service. Instead, he thinks the others will pick up the Delta passengers and possibly add more service here.

Customers who have booked Delta flights after Sept. 1 will be offered alternative transportation or refunds.

"They'll be able to fly out of here. It just won't be as convenient," Welch said. "It's going to be difficult to find the perfect schedule at any airport."

Comair employs 10 people at the University Park airport and will offer the employees opportunities to transfer to other positions.

Jennifer Thomas can be reached at 231-4638.


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