Friday, July 22, 2011

Delta reduces service to rural areas

News follows SkyWest reduction

Express Staff Writer

Delta Airlines, the commercial airline that operates SkyWest flights to Friedman Memorial Airport, has announced it will cut service to 24 small towns in the South and Midwest.

The airline announced Friday that it's losing $14 million on flights to towns such as Butte, Mont., and Thief River Falls, Minn.

On average, flights to these locations are only half full, and the airline reports that weak demand has led to flights occasionally operating with no passengers on board. Delta's target average flight load is 83 percent full, according to a press release issued by the carrier.

"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 provide this service," an airline news release stated.

The Essential Air Service program subsidizes many of the airports that will see cuts. These airports receive nearly $200 million annually in federal funding meant to ensure that these communities receive passenger airline service. Delta stated that it cannot maintain service in these areas without higher federal subsidies.

The cuts follow news that SkyWest will be reducing its flight schedule to Sun Valley beginning in October. Marissa Snow, SkyWest spokeswoman, said the carrier will reduce its flights to better match market demand during slack season.

"You're looking at four daily round trips in October and three in November," Snow said. "Ordinarily, we would have been at five all winter long."

Delta has not indicated further cuts to the Sun Valley area. Snow said earlier this month that SkyWest will continue to monitor demand at Friedman Memorial Airport and make necessary adjustments.

Katherine Wutz:

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