NEW YORK — Delta Air Lines will greatly expand its presence in the hotly contested air corridor between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the airline said Friday.
Meanwhile, USAir said it will abandon all of its flights in and out of the Long Beach airport at the beginning of May because of lack of business.
Beginning June 1, Delta said, it will operate 16 round-trip flights a day--more than five times the three flights it now operates on the route. The flights will leave hourly.
"Western Air Lines (which Delta acquired four years ago) had similar-type service before our merger," Al Kolakowski, Atlanta-based Delta's vice president-sales, said in a telephone interview. "But we put it aside to allocate our equipment elsewhere.
"It has been part of our long-range growth plan to get back in the market, and the time is appropriate now," Kolakowski said. "When we go into a route, we stay there. This is a long-term commitment. We know this is a tough market. There is a lot of capacity, but on a level playing field we think we can have an impact in the market."
The Delta action follows by a month United Airlines' announcement that it would boost its service between Los Angeles and San Francisco to a flight every half hour between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Observers said the added competition could mean a drop in fares. At the moment, according to Delta, fares range from $136 one way for an advance purchase ticket to $180 for a ticket purchased at the last minute.
Delta said Friday that it had not planned to announce the flight expansion yet. However, its chief pilot, Harold Alger, "jumped the gun" in a tape-recorded telephone message to pilots. As a result, word got out to the public about the airline's plans.
The announcement was "a bit premature," Kolakowski said. "A number of operational considerations had not been finalized."
Delta, according to its chief pilot's message, will operate four 107-seat Boeing 737 aircraft on the route.
Analysts said Delta felt that there was a significant opportunity as a result of American Airlines' action in the last 18 months of pulling back about 40% in the California corridor. In addition, USAir, another major player in the corridor, is losing money in the market. Its Chairman Edwin I. Colodny had said in a recent interview that competition was so stiff on the corridor that no one could make money there.
"Both United and Delta have watched American's presence decline and have seen USAir as a victim, so they are turning the heat up," said Daniel I. Hersh, airline analyst with Bateman Eichler, Hill Richards, a Los Angeles investment firm. "United and Delta are looking for a windfall."
Hersh added that United and Delta are expanding their San Francisco-Los Angeles service because "each seeks to establish itself as the top carrier for . . . businessmen who want service and convenience and are willing to pay for it."
According to the Transportation Department, in the third quarter of 1989, the latest period for which figures are available, United had a 27% share of the market, USAir had 30.9% and American had 18.8%. Southwest Airlines has about 3% of the market. During that three-month period, a total of 633,410 passengers traveled up and down the corridor.
American's intentions concerning its future participation in the corridor market are not known. "The entire market is under evaluation," Alton Becker Jr., an American spokesman, said Friday. "American has not made a decision to further increase in that market. We already have 12 (daily) round-trips between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and we operate 13 daily flights between Los Angeles and San Jose." USAir and United had no comment on Delta's move.
USAir said it was ending service at Long Beach because its flights have been going out carrying loads of only 25% to 35% of capacity. USAir operates five flights daily at Long Beach--two to San Francisco, two to Las Vegas and one to Phoenix.
A USAir spokesman said these routes could be adequately serviced with its flights in and out of Los Angeles International Airport and John Wayne Airport in Orange County.