Comair Expects to have Fewer, but Bigger, Planes

CINCINNATI -- Regional airline Comair said last week's deal with its pilots on wage cuts and other concessions will produce the savings from employees needed to leave bankruptcy protection.

Now, the Delta Air Lines Inc. subsidiary must focus on what has to be done to secure its long-term survival.

"My personal hope is that last night's news truly signals the beginning of a new chapter for our company," Comair President Don Bornhorst said.

Bornhorst said he hopes all groups can have a renewed focus on maintaining quality, serving customers and supporting each other so Comair can "compete aggressively in the marketplace."

Comair is one of the regional carriers under contract with Delta at Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

Fifteen months after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, along with Delta, Comair reached a tentative agreement shortly after midnight Monday with the union representing its 1,500 pilots.

The agreement still must be voted on by pilots, but Comair seems to have the final piece to complete its restructuring plan to save $70 million annually.

Analysts say the agreements with the pilots and other unions were vital to Comair's plan to emerge successfully from bankruptcy and to remain competitive.

"This removes uncertainty on the status of labor and allows management to put forward a more precise and certain proposal next time Delta flying goes out for contract," said Doug Abbey, an aviation consultant.

Comair lost some of its regional business when Delta shifted the flying of 12 70-seat jets operated by Comair to St. George, Utah-based SkyWest in November.

Delta also has said Comair would have to bid along with other regional airlines for operating up to 143 of Delta's regional jets, including as many as 43 70-seat jets.

Comair estimates that after emerging from bankruptcy -- assuming it doesn't lose any more of its flying through the bidding -- it will have 15 70-seat jets and 115 50-seat jets, down from the 27 70-seat jets and 116 50-seat jets it had shortly after filing for bankruptcy.

Mike Boyd, an aviation industry analyst, said that 50-seat segment of the market is declining.

"We're projecting over 600 50-seat jets will go out of service over the next 10 years," Boyd said. "Operating 50-seat jets will be like having a factory that makes black-and-white TVs."

Boyd said he is not optimistic about Comair's chances for survival if it remains solely with 50-seaters and cannot provide competitive costs.

"Cost is everything," Boyd said. "Comair has the quality, but costs will be the challenge."

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