Delta Air Lines has notified the United States Department of Transport of its intention to cut services to 24 regional airports.
Delta operates the flights under the government Essential Air Service (EAS) scheme, but is presently running some $14 million in annual losses on the routes.
This, despite nearly $200 million in government subsidies.
Flights in these markets on average depart with 52 per cent of the seats filled, with some locations as low as 12 percent, argued Delta.
This compares to a domestic system load factor of 83 per cent for 2010.
Weak demand in some markets has led to flights occasionally operated with no passengers on board, revealed the airline.
“While Delta would prefer to continue serving these communities, the new reality of mounting cost pressures faced by our industry means we can no longer afford to provide this service,” a Delta spokesperson explained.
“As we continue to strengthen our business, Delta is retiring the Saab turboprops and some 50-seat jet aircraft, which will hinder the financial viability of serving these smaller markets.”
Airports affected include Thief River Falls, a city of 8,600 in northwest Minnesota and Pierre, the capital of South Dakota.
A complete list can be seen here.
Department of Transport
The notification provides the DOT the opportunity to select a new carrier to begin service in affected EAS communities within a 90-day period.
Delta will continue to serve the affected communities through its Delta Connection partners until the DOT selects a replacement carrier and “appropriate” funding is available, the airline said.
Delta will to continue service some subsidised and non-subsidised markets, but the subsidy rate must be higher in order for Delta to fly larger regional jets on the routes in question.
The EAS program was created to ensure small communities continue to have access to passenger air service.
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