Logan May See Few Delta Cuts

Sep. 16--As Delta Air Lines Inc. began the long process of working itself out of bankruptcy yesterday, industry analysts predicted travelers in New England could in time see some flight cutbacks, big jets replaced by regionals, and more service switched over to Delta's lower-cost affiliate, Song.

But Boston's Logan International Airport, where Delta is the second-biggest carrier with about 20 percent of the market, will probably see fewer service reductions than other airports. Boston is among the most competitive and affluent air markets in the country, with no airline close to dominant and all facing growing incursions by low-fare carriers. Logan is also a key market for service to Europe and the Caribbean, which is likely to become a higher priority in a reorganized Delta because it makes more money than domestic service.

"Boston is one of their key cities," said Ray Neidl, an aviation industry analyst with Calyon Securities USA Inc. "I don't see much of an effect there. Boston and New York are really their two key markets in the Northeast and for their Florida service."

But overall, as it seeks to work down $28 billion in debt and return to profitability, Neidl predicted Delta will "shrink by probably more than 15 percent." Neidl said he would put "more emphasis on international operations and possibly expanding the Song concept domestically. We also believe the carrier will lean even more to the use of regional jets."

Delta service from the Providence and Manchester, N.H., airports to its Atlanta and Cincinnati hubs that is now offered on Boeing 737s and McDonnell Douglas MD-88's, Neidl said, could be an example of service that moves to smaller, slightly slower regional jets that are far less expensive to operate.

At Logan, Delta continues to look into subleasing some of the 22 gates at the new $400 million Terminal A it opened in March. Charter airlines already use some gates.

Craig P. Coy, executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, said he expects there will be some changes in Delta service levels at Logan, which could be quickly offset by expanded service by competitors such as JetBlue Airways Corp. and other low-fare carriers. "The bottom line is that airline passengers want to come to Boston, and that's our ace in the hole. We've weathered airline bankruptcies in the past, and we'll weather this one as well," Coy said.

Logan normally ranks 10th or 11th among US airports for so-called origin and destination traffic, which refers to people beginning or ending travel at Logan rather than just passing through as is often the case in airports such as those in Atlanta and Dallas.

According to its current schedule, Delta operates just over 100 daily nonstop flights out of Logan to 30 destinations. Those include 16 Delta Shuttle flights to New York's LaGuardia Airport and eight to Washington Reagan National, considered some of Delta's most lucrative operations and no target for budget-cutting. There are also 12 flights to Delta's key hub in Atlanta that connect to service throughout the South and West, and nine to Cincinnati, a secondary hub Delta has said it plans to scale back.

Delta's Song affiliate this month launched new nonstops from Logan to Los Angeles and San Francisco and is adding five more daily flights to Florida destinations this fall.

An obvious move for Delta will be reviewing service frequency, reconsidering whether to offer, say, all four daily flights from Logan to Raleigh, N.C., and three to Columbus, Ohio. Logan also functions as a Delta hub for passengers from elsewhere headed to and from regional airports like Bangor and Portland, Maine; Burlington, Vt.; and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

John Weber, a vice president with BACK Aviation Solutions, a New Haven industry consulting firm, said that "a lot of what's going to happen depends on their fleet plans." Delta hopes to phase out four models of aircraft, simplify maintenance and operations, and what kind of planes it keeps will go a long way in determining where it offers service, based on the ultimate mix of regional jets and longer-haul jets.

Delta spokeswoman Chris Kelly said it was far too soon to predict what if any changes would be made in service to Boston or anywhere else. "We are maintaining normal operations right now, and as part of our reorganization we will go in to examine our route structure, looking at everywhere we fly in the coming weeks and months," Kelly said. "The first thing we need to do is simplify our fleet, and then it's all about getting the right aircraft in the right places at the right times of day."

Industry analysts also expect cutbacks from Northwest Airlines Corp., which controls just 5 percent of the Logan market and also sought bankruptcy protection on Wednesday. Most Northwest service to and from Boston flows through its hub facilities in Detroit and Minneapolis. In its current schedule, Northwest operates 28 nonstop flights from Logan, including a daily trans-Atlantic flight to Amsterdam and direct service to Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Milwaukee.