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News Article - July 04, 2007

Delta to End Service at ILG  
  Travelers say they like the convenience of flying out of the New Castle Airport, bypassing the long lines and hassles of crowded Philadelphia International Airport. But the flipside of no waits at the northern Delaware airport means no people. Lackluster ticket sales, with the twice daily Wilmington-Atlanta flights running at only about 50 percent full, led Delta Air Lines to announce Wednesday that it is pulling out of the New Castle Airport, leaving Delaware once again without any regularly scheduled commercial flights.

   "We were thrilled to death when Delta first came, because living in Delaware you're in limbo because there's no direct flights anywhere," said Theodosia Johnston of Lewes as she and her husband waited for the evening flight to Atlanta on Wednesday. "This is such a convenience to us. We'll hate to lose it." The news comes just weeks after Delta celebrated one year of service at the airport. The last flights will run Sept. 5. "We're disappointed because we think we pressed all the right buttons," said Stephen Williams, the airport's director for the Delaware River & Bay Authority, which operates the New Castle Airport. "We went to great lengths to get Delta's name out to the community." Earlier this year the airport embarked on a $70,000 marketing campaign, backed by revenues from the authority's toll and user fees, to tout the airport as a convenient alternative to Philadelphia International Airport.

   Maria DiPietro, of Upper Darby, Pa., said she appreciates the easy check-in and free parking, but she's not surprised Delta is bailing. "It can't survive this close to Philadelphia," she said. "It's so small, people don't even know they can fly commercial out of here. Maybe if they flew to more places they could make it."

   The limited demand for service made staying at the New Castle Airport economically unsustainable in the long term, said Kent Landers, Delta spokesman. "There may be opportunities over time that we may be able to look at this market again, but it's important we make the best use of our resources, and that aircraft are deployed to routes with the greatest profit potential," he said.

   James Wolfe, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, said Delta's announcement is both a disappointment and a surprise. "When you drive by the airport, the parking lot is full, which tells me people are traveling," he said.

   In June, a peak travel month, about 60 percent of seats were filled, according to airport records. That compares with about 85.9 percent on Delta flights systemwide, Landers said. Delta becomes another mark in the airport's checkered history with commercial air service. United Airlines, Shuttle America and Crown Airlines also have left the airport in the past 20 years. Delta has operated the first commercial flights since Shuttle America called it quits in 2000.

   In the past decade, the airport has received about $30 million in upgrades, but no real improvements were necessary to accommodate Delta's arrival in June 2006. The airport's three runways are underused, Williams said, and given the growing capacity problems at Philadelphia International Airport and elsewhere, the New Castle Airport is in a prime position to tap into that market.

   Just because Delta is leaving doesn't mean all commercial flights in Delaware are doomed to fail, Wolfe said. Delta simply is better utilizing its fleet to make a profit, he said. Delta also is dropping service at three other airports: Erie, Pa.; Marathon, Fla. and Binghamton, N.Y. The announcements follow the carrier's emergence from bankruptcy on April 30. That doesn't change Delawareans' frustration with the crowds and delays at the Philadelphia airport.

   Williams said that despite Delta's failure, he believes a commercial airline remains a viable option for the New Castle Airport. "Whether it's this carrier or the next, we'll continue to push for commercial air service for the community," he said. The next carrier needs to be more price competitive, Wolfe said. Williams said different routes, such as to banking and insurance destinations more in sync with greater Wilmington's business community, also are an important factor for future success.

   Spending the money on a marketing campaign was worthwhile, Wolfe said, even with Delta jumping ship. "Wilmington is growing, and business is growing, and this brought attention to the airport as an alternative to Philadelphia," he said. "This isn't the end." Carla Taylor, who owns the Cafe Bama foodstand at the airport, said she's sad to see Delta go, but the airport still has a mix of businesses. "The word is just getting out," she said.

   Passengers who booked flights after Sept. 5 can get a refund or fly out of another location, like Philadelphia, Landers said. He said that very few customers would be affected. The 18 employees of Delta's staffing subsidiary at the New Castle Airport will be offered transfers, such as to Philadelphia, Landers said.

Source - Deleware Online



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