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Delta to cut service to unprofitable airport markets

Delta Air Lines Inc. is looking to drop money-losing flights in 24 small cities putting some of them at risk of losing air service altogether.

However, Bemidji Regional Airport Manager Harold VanLeeuwen said Delta has assured him that Bemidji will not lose service.

"The list designates us that we are (an) all-jet market," said VanLeeuwen.

Bemidji is served by three flights a day during the summer and two flights a day during the winter using Canada Air Regional jets. Delta is retiring the Saab turboprops that serve some of the cities on the list for potential loss of service.

"It's part of a process," VanLeeuwen said.

VanLeeuwen said Delta is seeking subsidies from the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Essential Air Service. No carrier has ever asked for a subsidy for Bemidji air service because it is a profitable market.

Delta will notify the DOT of the intention to discontinue service to trigger the DOT to go out for bids from interested carriers.

"It's quite possible we'll have multiple bidders," VanLeeuwen said.

However, when the process is complete, there will only be one carrier for the Bemidji market. Before the DOT awards the bid to a carrier, federal representatives will contact the Bemidji Regional Airport Board members for input on their preference in carriers.

VanLeeuwen said Delta will likely ask for Bemidji's support on that company's bid. However, he added, another company might bid for four flights a day and switch Bemidji's service back to turboprops. Another company might buy the Saabs from Delta.

"Under the EAS (Essential Air Service) the minimum they can bid is two flights a day," VanLeeuwen said.

Delta reported the company has been losing $14 million a year on the flights, which are concentrated in the nation's midsection in cities like Thief River Falls, Minn., and Waterloo, Iowa. Some flights are only 12 percent full on average. Many are on Saab turboprop planes, which Delta is retiring.

Federal subsidies help pay for flying in 16 of the cities. Other airlines can bid for those subsidies if Delta pulls out. The airline says it will ask for federal subsidies in the other eight cities. It said it can't afford to keep flying to those cities without a subsidy.

The cities where Delta said it may drop service, by average flight occupancy from highest to the lowest and which receive DOT subsidies:

E Butte, Mont., 65 percent occupancy, no subsidy.

E Waterloo, Iowa, 61 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., 60 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Bemidji, 59 percent occupancy, no subsidy.

E Pellston, Mich., 59 percent occupancy, no subsidy.

E Aberdeen, S.D., 56 percent occupancy, no subsidy.

E Escanaba, Mich., 55 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Hattiesburg, Miss., 54 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Brainerd, Minn., 53 percent occupancy, no subsidy.

E International Falls, Minn., 53 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Sioux City, Iowa, 51 percent occupancy, no subsidy.

E Iron Mountain, Mich., 49 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Pierre, S.D., 47 percent occupancy, no subsidy.

E Mason City, Iowa, 46 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Jamestown, N.D., 42 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Tupelo, Miss., 41 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Alpena, Mich., 40 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Hibbing, Minn., 39 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Fort Dodge, Iowa, 39 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Muscle Shoals, Miss., 36 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Watertown S.D., 35 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Devils Lake, N.D., 30 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Greenville, Miss., 28 percent occupancy, subsidy.

E Thief River Falls, Minn., 12 percent occupancy, subsidy.