ORLANDO, Fla._Delta Air Lines Inc. has told a bankruptcy judge that the airline wants to close two-thirds of its gates at Orlando International Airport, the state's busiest.
Delta made the request to shut down 16 of its 24 gates at the Orlando airport on Thursday in New York bankruptcy court. Such a move would end Delta's title as the region's most powerful and largest carrier as early as next month.
The change "does not signal a reduced commitment by Delta to the Orlando market," Delta spokesman Anthony Black said. The airline will not decrease its average of 115 daily flights, he said, though the number of seats will drop.
For years, Delta has wanted to cut back on its gates but could not because of its 30-year lease, which ends in 2008. The bankruptcy filing relieves Delta of those lease obligations.
"Delta has identified Orlando International Airport as an airport where we lease more space than is needed for our operation," Black said.
Delta's request comes as three high-growth airlines - Southwest, JetBlue Airways and AirTran Airways - marked this week's completion of construction on six new gates, which allow those airlines to expand.
Earlier this year, low-cost Southwest Airlines overtook Delta in market share in Orlando, even with Delta's wholly owned subsidiary Comair included in the numbers.
Orlando International Airport's signatory airlines, which assume financial risk for the airport, will be forced under their own leases to share the cost of the millions of dollars in rent Delta pays to the airport each year for gates and equipment.
Orlando International Airport Executive Director Bill Jennings said the airport anticipated Delta's decision and has coped with closures before, such as in 2003, when bankrupt US Airways gave up 11 gates.
"I think other carriers will take the (Delta) gates," Jennings said. "I don't know how quickly that will happen, but it will happen."
Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com