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Comair to lay off workers and halve fleet by 2012

Comair said it plans to drop from its current 97 planes to 44 aircraft by the end of 2012.
Comair said it plans to drop from its current 97 planes to 44 aircraft by the end of 2012. AP

CINCINNATI — Comair, the Erlanger-based regional airline owned by Delta Air Lines Inc., said Wednesday that it will cut its fleet by more than half and reduce staffing over the next two years because its costs are higher than competitors.

Comair president John Bendoraitis told employees in a memo Wednesday morning that the regional airline will accelerate the reduction of its aging, less-efficient 50-seat jets while retaining its larger 65-seat and 76-seat jets.

The airline now has 97 planes. It plans to become a 44-aircraft operation by the end of 2012 and will reduce staff accordingly, Bendoraitis said. Comair plans to reduce its fleet of 50-seat jets from 65 at the end of this year to 16 by the end of 2012. The rest of its fleet will be 28 planes with 65 to 76 seats.

Blue Grass Airport in Lexington referred questions regarding how the changes would affect flights in and out of Lexington to Delta Air Lines.

Delta spokeswoman Kristin Baur said she could not say how the fleet reductions would affect flights in and out of Lexington if it affects flights at all. She said future flight schedules have not been determined.

Last week, Delta announced that it would end service between Lexington and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport effective Nov. 1.

Reducing the fleet should save Comair about $110 million over the next four years, Bendoraitis said.

Bendoraitis said Comair's current cost structure remains about 20 percent higher than its peers on a cost-per-hour basis and that "does not allow us to be competitive in the current industry environment."

The memo also said that Comair officials will be working with the unions representing its pilots, flight attendants and mechanics in the coming weeks to secure "new, more competitive agreements with these groups."

Comair has about 2,500 employees and operates more than 400 flights a day to about 70 cities in the United States, Canada and the Bahamas.

Comair, with its main hub at the Cincinnati airport, has been a Delta Connection partner since 1984 and became a wholly owned subsidiary in 2000. Comair had more than 7,000 employees and 1,160 flights before entering bankruptcy protection. Comair and Delta both emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2007.

But the airline has struggled with high costs, and Delta at one time considered selling it. Earlier this year Delta owned three feeder carriers — Comair, Mesaba and Compass, which it acquired along with Northwest Airlines in 2008. It sold Mesaba and Compass in July, though they still carry Delta passengers under the Delta Connection name.

Delta stock closed up 22 cents, or 2.1 percent, at $10.68.

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