Will Airlines Increase Seat Capacity

May 4, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The fact that Delta Air Lines just emerged from bankruptcy and Northwest Airlines is due to follow in June won’t have any immediate effect on Gerald R. Ford International Airport, but long term it could mean an increase in seat capacity in some markets.

Ford International is keeping its fingers crossed that it will be among those markets, said Bruce Schedlbauer, manager of airport marketing and communications. 

Both airlines have been operating out of Ford International throughout bankruptcy — Delta through its Comair subsidiary — and during the interim, there have been instances of bankruptcy-related reductions in seat capacity in this market as in most other markets, Schedlbauer said.

Over the last three years, Gerald R. Ford International Airport lost about 12 percent of its flights and about 20 percent of its seats due to airline bankruptcies, Aeronautics Director James Koslosky told the Business Journal. Nationwide, the airlines have cut more than 20 percent of capacity as part of their restructuring plan, so nearly every airport is impacted by the loss of seats, Koslosky said. Some of those seats have come back slowly, and the airport still has a good level of air service, with six major airlines connecting to 15 hubs, he said. There are 120 to 130 flights in and out of Ford International every day.

As part of the bankruptcy, Delta’s Comair connection paid off 73 percent of its outstanding debt to Ford International, with the airport receiving payment of $28,085 on the claim. In March, Northwest Airlines paid the airport $521,375, which represented 90 percent of its outstanding claim. Northwest still owes the airport $63,726 related to activity of its two regional affiliates, Mesaba and Pinnacle. Schedlbauer said the airport could recoup some of that claim before Northwest emerges from bankruptcy.

Airport officials met with Northwest earlier this year and have a meeting scheduled with Delta this week, primarily for the purpose of ensuring that both airlines know Ford International has a great interest in seeing capacity brought back into this market.

“We just want to be in there and make sure that Grand Rapids’ name is as near to the top of the list as we can get it,” Schedlbauer said.

Delta is considering the sale of Comair, but there’s no way to tell right now whether Comair would go or stay in this market. Schedlbauer pointed out that load factors definitely aren’t an issue in this market; the airlines are filling their airplanes.

“Grand Rapids and West Michigan have been historically — and continue to be — very strong markets for Delta and Delta Connections, regardless of which operating company happens to be flying the routes,” Schedlbauer observed. “I don’t foresee any major change coming in the Delta product here in Grand Rapids.”    

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