Freedom Airlines Flights to Boost Delta at Orlando Int'l Airport

Aug. 15--Freedom Airlines will begin flying out of Orlando International Airport in October as a contract carrier for Delta Air Lines, giving travelers from Orlando new nonstop service to six smaller markets and more in the future.

Freedom will become the third regional carrier flying in partnership with Delta from Orlando, joining Comair and Chautauqua Airlines as Delta Connection carriers.

The new nonstop destinations are Austin, Texas; Charlottesville, Va.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Jackson, Miss.

Industry experts said the move will allow Delta, struggling to find new revenue and avoid bankruptcy court, to expand its service area without spending huge amounts of money on planes or staffing.

Travelers from Orlando now can reach the new cities only by changing planes in another city, such as Atlanta or Charlotte. Both leisure and business travelers will benefit from the new direct service, analysts said.

"This is great for Orlando, good for the local economy," said Michael Miller, an airline and aviation industry consultant in Orlando. "It's really rare to get this many routes at one time."

While the expansion is too small to affect the company's decision as to whether it will file for protection from creditors, Miller said, it does further Delta's strategy of serving routes with thrifty contract carriers.

"This will bring Delta's total to more than 25 small markets" served by affiliated carriers such as Comair and Chautauqua, Miller said.

Contract carriers typically fly smaller, fuel-efficient regional jets to hold down expenses and maximize the occupancy levels. Freedom will fly 50-passenger Embraer regional jets in its inaugural Orlando service.

Joe Esposito, Delta's director of domestic-network analysis, said that as far as the Atlanta-based airline's customers are concerned, the new service will look and feel just like Delta flights.

Delta's name or logo and the distinctive blue color scheme will be on the planes, Esposito said, just as they are with Comair and Chautauqua flights out of Orlando and other airports.

With the addition of the Freedom flights, Esposito said, Delta's total departures from Orlando will leap 14 percent, to 139 daily flights and 46 destinations. Delta -- the third-largest airline in the United States -- is the longtime market leader in Orlando. But it is locked in a fierce battle for passenger traffic leadership with Southwest Airlines, the fast-growing discount carrier.

In addition to the six new markets, Freedom will add service between Orlando and more than a dozen other destinations throughout the South and Midwest by December, Delta representatives said. Those markets would range from Birmingham, Ala., and Dayton, Ohio, to Fort Lauderdale and Pensacola. Freedom is operated by Mesa Air of Phoenix.

Miller, a former Delta employee and former editor in chief of Aviation Daily magazine, said Delta's latest expansion strategy to smaller markets is a testament to "Orlando's drawing power."

The airline clearly feels confident, Miller said, that it has identified communities that have enough people traveling to and from Orlando through other communities to warrant daily nonstop service.

"It's really nice to have those nonstops," he said.