Five small Minnesota cities are among 24 cities across the nation that will no longer be serviced by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, Inc., because the company is losing money on the flights.
Delta announced Friday that it is ending service in the markets because it is losing $14 million annually due to those flights being just 52 percent full on average-well under the companywide 83 percent average that Delta reported in 2010.
The five Minnesota cities affected by Delta's decision are Thief River Falls, Hibbing, International Falls, Brainerd, and Bemidji. Click here to see a full list of cities to which Delta is discontinuing service.
"While Delta would prefer to continue serving these communities, the new reality of mounting cost pressures faced by our industry means we can no longer afford to provide this service," the company said in a press release, adding that it is retiring its Saab fleet and some 50-seat jet aircraft, which are used to serve the smaller markets.
Delta said that it will continue to serve the affected cities until the Department of Transportation (DOT) selects a replacement carrier and appropriate funding is available. The company also indicated that it is looking at re-bidding for Essential Air Service Program funding for nine of the 24 cities to cover the higher costs that come along with serving those areas with a larger aircraft.
On Saturday, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar sent a letter to Delta's CEO Richard Anderson, asking the company to reconsider its decision to end service to the five Minnesota cities.
"As you know, hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans rely on Delta for national and international travel each year," Klobuchar wrote. "The cities you have identified for reduced or eliminated service . . . are especially reliant on your service since they are not served by any other commercial carrier."
Klobuchar added that Delta's service to Greater Minnesota helps create jobs and "maintain the economic vitality of these communities."
Delta spokeswoman Kristin Baur wrote in an e-mailed statement that Delta has been "working diligently to make sure that these communities continue to have air service, even if Delta is not in a position to be able to provide it."
In addition, Baur said that Cheyenne, Wyoming-based Great Lakes Airlines has expressed interest and is preparing to submit a bid to the DOT to provide service to the five cities in Minnesota that Delta will no longer serve.
"Great Lakes will provide service with a 19-seat aircraft, which Delta believes is the right size aircraft for the market," Baur said.
News of Delta's discontinued service to the 24 small markets comes slightly more than a month after the company announced that it was relocating a "few hundred" jobs from the Twin Cities to its headquarters in Atlanta as part of a consolidation process that will save money.
In another effort to save money after posting a $318 million loss in the first quarter, Delta announced in May that it was offering retirement and buyout options to about 55,000 employees and reducing flight capacity by 4 percent.
Delta is among the state's largest employers and serves more than 160 million customers each year. It maintains a significant presence at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, from which it operates more than 500 daily departures to 138 destinations worldwide.