Originally created 08/11/00

Airline vows to improve flights



Atlantic Southeast Airlines officials vowed Thursday to bring better customer service and fewer delays and cancellations to Augusta in the future.

Brian LaBrecque, a senior vice president of ground operations for ASA, and Mark Fisher, vice president of ASA's customer service department, told the Augusta Aviation Commission they are continuing to make changes to bring the airline up to the customer satisfaction levels of its parent company, Delta Air Lines.

"When we took over ASA, it was euphoria," said Mr. LaBrecque, who spent 20 years working for Delta before moving into a management position at ASA. "Many of the passengers were very pleased that Delta now owned ASA, and expected the same level of service and product.

"That was probably a poor assessment," he said. "Obviously, you can't have the same product: We don't fly the same airplane. However, in terms of customer service and customer feel, we felt very comfortable we would be able to bring that comfort level of service up very, very quickly. I will say that in the first six months, the numbers were very good - we were doing much better than ASA had ever done, and we felt like we were moving along in a real positive path."

But things began to change.

A majority of ASA's pilots left to work for Delta, and the regional airline found itself without enough pilots or crews to fly its planes.

The company, which had been used to losing eight to 10 pilots a month to major airlines, lost 26 in January alone, Mr. LaBrecque said.

"In January, we also lost four - one half - of our pilot instructors. It just threw us. We weren't prepared for it," Mr. LaBrecque said.

ASA was meeting its schedules only 25 percent of the time. "We made it impossible for our people to succeed," Mr. LaBrecque said.

So ASA, with the help of senior Delta officials, made changes in schedules, time allotments, crewsand even planes. The first changes went into effect Aug. 1.

The ATR turboprop planes have been the biggest improvement. In June, the on-time success rate for ASA's ATRs was only 26 percent. It was 25 percent in July. But through Thursday, the on-time success rate was up to 81 percent, Mr. LaBrecque said.

The company has expanded service from Charleston and Columbia to Dallas and will soon have Savannah to Dallas flights.

As for Augusta?

"You're on the radar," Mr. LaBrecque said. "Delta Air Lines determines where we fly."

Mr. LaBrecque said future service at Augusta will depend greatly on the success of the regional jet service from Augusta to Cincinnati.

ASA recently placed 35 orders for 70-seat jets, 50-seat jets, 44-seat jets and 40-seat jets.

But Augustans flying to Atlanta will travel via turboprops for the foreseeable future. Mr. LaBrecque said ASA has no plans at this point to replace any of its ATRs. "In Augusta, which has some demand for larger airplanes, but not enough demand, the ATR seats 66. If we went to a regional jet, which has 50 seats, you'd lose seats. We don't think that's the proper economic answer."

Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.