For 66 years, Delta Air Lines served Augusta, and Augusta served Delta Air Lines. Certainly, no one can take the discontinuation of that relationship lightly. And we don't.
Delta's announcement that it will abandon this market because boardings declined did little to serve its reputation among passengers or future stockholders, especially in light of the fact it was a self-imposed decline. Had Delta maintained the service it once had in our area, the drop in passengers would never have materialized. But the airline's business plan calls for it to leave our-sized markets anyway, so the discussion is moot. What a shame.
There is, however, much that Delta can do for this market. And we call on the airline to find a way to do it.
For one, find a way to keep the Delta name on at least one of the two smaller airlines it has now assigned to replace it in Augusta. Economic development opportunities often can depend on whether a major airline serves the area.
Second, find at least a 50-passenger regional jet (70 sets would be better) to replace the 140-seat MD80 that serves its 6:15 a.m. flight daily. That plane is usually packed with hurried passengers frantically trying to make connections in Atlanta for business trips all over the country. A turbo-prop, even temporarily, just won't do it. Delta's own studies have shown that its passengers will drive as much as five hours to avoid getting on a turbo-prop. Under this plan, by the time a regional jet is available for the now-profitable flight, we won't need one.
These suggestions are not merely vanity on the part of our area. They are good business moves for Delta. Maintaining passenger loads for its flights to Atlanta would be a profitable venture. And there were times when Augustans came to the aid of the airline. Who's to say that help won't be needed again?
It's always painful when a relationship ends. This one need not end poorly.
While it's too bad Delta Air Lines chooses not to move ahead with Augusta, our city will, nevertheless, move ahead and make some pretty good lemonade out of these lemons.
And who's to say that we won't be better off in the long run? It's possible other carriers will now see the Augusta market as more of a level playing field, and we'll be able to attract more regional carriers that will serve other destinations.
Comair, owned by Delta, will begin service from Augusta to Cincinnati, which is an important hub airport for the rest of the nation. Other carriers may follow. Federal grant money is available to communities such as ours to develop better regional jet service, and if we're smart, we'll take advantage of it.
With Delta's departure, Augusta may also be more attractive to another major airline. This is a market that is too much of an opportunity to pass by: Now that Delta is going, the city will have an unfulfilled need.
To be sure, the Delta announcement affects the long-awaited remodeling of Augusta Regional Airport and planners will need to take a close look at how they configure the terminal. But we encourage them to move ahead with that project.
It's our job to come together as a community and make this new scenario work. We can, if we're aggressive, move quickly and accept this challenge as an opportunity.