City scrambles to keep Delta, lure another Airline

DELTA DEPARTING — Delta announced plans to leave the Lynchburg Regional Airport two weeks ago. This change will not affect students who have already purchased tickets through Delta.

Lynchburg Regional Airport leaders are scrambling to convince Delta Air Lines to reconsider its plans to pull out of the city in January.

City Manager Kimball Payne said the city is also targeting other airlines that would provide flights to Washington, D.C.’s Dulles International Airport or Philadelphia International Airport.

“Service to Dulles would be a homerun, particularly for companies that need international connections,” Payne said.

Delta offers three daily flights to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which has 150 connections to other U.S. and international airports.

Delta is only offering two daily flights to Atlanta in November and December.

Liberty University Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. said Falwell Aviation has considered providing flights to New York City.

“Falwell Aviation might be able to bring another flight,” Falwell said. “Falwell Aviation has the potential to fill some of the void being left by the loss.”

Falwell said the company currently offers daily charter flights on eight-seat jets for Areva and other companies.

Falwell said university leaders talked with city officials about adding a flight to a major northern airport before Delta decided to leave.

The university owns one jet and Falwell Aviation charters two others.

“We keep those three planes in the air almost everyday,” Falwell said.

Falwell said city leaders were excited about the idea of Falwell Aviation adding a northbound flight.

Falwell Aviation would have to operate a 30- to 50-seat jet to accommodate larger flights, the chancellor said.

“The devil is probably in the details though,” Falwell said. “I doubt if we could serve the general public. Charter flights would be limited to large companies or groups.”

Lynchburg Regional Airport Director Mark Courtney said Delta leaders did not mention leaving the city during his annual meeting with them in June.

“We received no indication whatsoever that they had any profitability problems,” Courtney said.

Nearly 90 percent of Delta’s seats were filled in October, Courtney said. Delta, which has operated out of Lynchburg since 1994, lowered its prices in an effort to compete with U.S. Airways.

City leaders suggested ways Delta could increase profits, including better seating allocation and increasing ticket prices, during a conference call with airline representatives Tuesday.

“They agreed to review ideas for tweaking fares out of Delta and improving the revenue environment,” Courtney said, adding that Delta provides high-quality jets. “People will pay more for better quality.”

Courtney said securing another airline for Lynchburg is a complex process.

City officials are talking with Pinnacle Airlines and Colgan Air about bringing flights to Lynchburg.

“If you get lucky, it could be seamless,” Courtney said. “A lot of things have to fall into place and there has to be an element of luck.”

Courtney said U.S. Airways is adding another flight to Charlotte, N.C.

“U.S. Airways has indicated they have no intention of raising their fares,” Courtney said. “My primary objective is going to be to make sure U.S. Airways is happy and their airplanes are full.”

U.S. Airways receives 60 percent and Delta 40 percent of the city’s passengers, Courtney said.

Delta and U.S. Airways have dropped prices from over $300 in early 2008 to just under $200 this year, according to airport records.

The Lynchburg Regional Chamber of Commerce is urging local business executives to write a personal letter to Delta’s CEO Richard Anderson.

“We are absolutely saying time is of the essence. Within the next seven business days, Delta needs to be flooded with letters from Lynchburg,” Christine Kennedy, executive vice president, said.

Kennedy said the chamber is working with businesses that rely on Delta’s service.

“Our priority is to do anything we can to keep Delta from pulling out,” Kennedy said.

City leaders have also contacted legislators and Governor Bob McDonnell.

“When you have one airline, there’s no competition. What’s the incentive to lower fares?” Kennedy said. “The danger is no competition creates a monopoly.”

Kennedy said city officials have a strong case for bringing in another airline that offers flights to a large airport.

“We have 75,000 passengers a year that need a carrier,” Kennedy said. “The companies themselves depend on this access. If you can’t get in and out of here, how are you going to do business?”

Payne said the city is working hard to keep Delta or find another airline.

“We want to demonstrate that an airline can be profitable (here),” Payne said.

Falwell added, “It might be time for Lynchburg to guarantee a certain amount of profit to these airlines to keep them here. Other cities have taken this approach in the past.”


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