LONG BEACH — Delta Air Lines, citing light passenger loads and a softening economy, has announced that it will cancel its four daily flights at Long Beach Airport.
Delta is the fourth major airline in the past eight months to cancel service at the airport. USAir canceled five daily flights last May. A month later, Trans World Airlines dropped its two flights. Continental Airlines stopped its two daily flights on Oct. 1.
All of Delta's flights out of Long Beach were to Dallas/Fort Worth. Two flights will be dropped March 2, and the last two flights will be discontinued March 31, according to the Tuesday announcement.
Delta's 15 Long Beach employees, all of them ground personnel, will be offered positions at other Southland airports served by the carrier, said Vince Durocher, Delta's regional marketing director.
All 15 will be able to transfer to Los Angeles International Airport, where a Delta work force of about 4,000 is needed to operate its 105 flights a day, Durocher said. But employees may be given an option of working at Delta operations in Orange County, Burbank/Glendale, San Diego, Ontario or Palm Springs.
The recent rash of airline departures does not worry airport officials or signal a significant downturn in business at Long Beach flight terminals, airport spokeswoman Lonnie Mitchell said.
She predicted that other carriers will expand service to fill the four flight slots being vacated by Delta.
Carriers now operate the maximum 41 daily flights allowed at the airport. The limit, which includes freight flights by such carriers as United Parcel Service and Federal Express, was set by court order after an ongoing legal battle between the airport and its neighbors over noise. Although no airlines may want to take over a Delta flight slot in order to fly to Dallas/Fort Worth, an airline might want to open up a new route or add flights to an existing route, she said.
Delta's Durocher said, however, that he is not as confident as Mitchell that other passenger carriers will rush to fill the vacant slots. He cited a poor economic climate that has been made worse by the Persian Gulf crisis that generated fears of terrorism and late last summer caused jet fuel prices to double for a time.
"I don't see that many carriers standing in line to get in," Durocher said.
Delta has had limited success at Long Beach from the time it started service in July, 1987, Durocher said. "There just doesn't seem to be a lot of people wanting to go out of Long Beach," he said. Delta's passenger load remained about the same even after TWA, USAir and Continental canceled service at the airport last year.
To make a route break even, Durocher said, each flight should be at least 55% full. He declined to reveal the exact passenger loads Delta carried out of Long Beach, but said they were "quite a bit" lower than 55%.
When Delta first started its four daily flights at Long Beach, the airline operated two flights to Salt Lake City and two to Dallas/Fort Worth. But light passenger loads forced Delta to switch the Salt Lake flights to the Dallas/Fort Worth route last June, Durocher said.
Remaining passenger carriers operating out of Long Beach are: Alaska Airlines, 12 flights a day; American Airlines, five flights; American West, 10; and United Airlines, six. Federal Express has three flights and UPS has one, Mitchell said.