Originally created 09/30/97

Delta offshoot celebrates birthday



ATLANTA - Delta Air Lines marks the first birthday this week of its low-cost baby, Delta Express, an offshoot airline created to compete better for budget-minded leisure flyers.

"We're still here," W.E. Barnette, the Delta vice president who heads the new unit, said jokingly in naming Delta Express' major accomplishment. "Given the past track record, that would have been a good goal ... Of course, our goals have always been much more aggressive than that."

Delta Express, which flies mainly from Orlando, Fla., says it carried more than 2.5 million passengers in its first year, with 71 percent load factors more than 80 percent on-time performance.

For its Oct. 1 anniversary, Delta Express will offer special "birthday" companion fares and add nonstop service between Orlando and Islip, N.Y., and Orlando and Raleigh-Durham, N.C. That will bring to 11 the midwestern and northeastern cities it flies to from Orlando and four other Florida cities.

"It's something they needed," said Raymond Neidl, airline analyst at Furman Selz in New York. He noted that the low-cost offshoot enables Delta to be more competitive against budget airlines in tourist-dominated markets.