Sept. 16--BUTTE -- Delta Airlines plans to bring larger regional planes to serve Montana and other areas and will start a nonstop flight between Billings and Atlanta next summer, top company officials said at the Economic Development Summit on Monday.
"We see a lot of opportunities for the Bakken," said Eric Phillips, Delta's vice president of pricing and revenue management for the Americas, who is originally from Lewistown. He was referring to the need for consultants and other business people to get to the oil fields in Eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
Delta CEO Richard Anderson said the company at some point will add larger planes to serve Montana, switching to 100-passenger regional planes from the current 50-passenger planes. He called the 50-seat regional planes uneconomical. He did not specify when the larger regional planes would be put in service.
Phillips said Delta originally started nonstop flights between Atlanta and Bozeman during summer and winter and now is doing it year round. In addition, Phillips said Delta last year added nonstop plane service during the summer between Atlanta and Missoula.
Delta also is considering adding a nonstop flight between John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Bozeman, he said.
Anticipatinig criticism about the lack of Delta flights into Montana, Anderson said Montana needs to increase more business travel to attract more flights. About 85 percent of the flights into Montana are tourism-related, while 15 percent are for business, he said.
Phillips said Delta's air traffic in Montana is up 9 percent this fall over last fall.
In response to a question about high air fares, the two Delta executives said pricing is related to the cost of fuel. Jet fuel prices have quadrupled since 2000, they said.
Anderson said that when adjusted for inflation, even including baggage fees, airfares are less than they were in 2000.
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