Airline Spotlight: Comair’s Turbulent History

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Photo credit: Doug
Photo credit: Doug

Comair served as one of America’s most trusted airlines for nearly 40 years. The popular airline, headquartered at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport in Boone County, Kent., was established back in 1977. Comair flew throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas until it ceased operations on Sept. 29, 2012.

Robert T. Tranter, David Patrick J. Sowers, David Mueller and David’s father Raymond founded Comair in Cincinnati. The company started with three Piper-Navajo aircraft and served the major Midwestern cities of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron-Canton and Detroit. David Mueller served as the company’s executive vice president and flew a number of the company’s flights as a pilot. In 1982, Comair added the Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante commuter aircraft to the fleet.

Comair became a public company in 1981 to support its growth and a need for capital. They were the first United States airline to fly the Saab 340 turboprop aircraft, seating 30 passengers. Comair also brought huge changes to the airline industry in 1993 when the company decided to fly regional jets exclusively. The company experienced rapid growth and was soon the first regional airline to use an all-jet fleet.

Photo credit: Dan LaMee
Photo credit: Dan LaMee

The airline became a Delta Connection carrier in 1984, and continued to grow through the ’80s and ’90s. The airline recorded more than 5.4 million passengers in 1997, and it served 79 cities in the United States. Comair became fully owned by Delta Air Lines on Oct. 22, 1999, and the company kicked off the 2000s as one of the industry’s top performers.

Shortly after Delta acquired Comair, the company underwent a number of hardships, including an 89-day strike that cost the company a portion of its fleet, roughly half of its employees and millions of dollars. Shortly after the grueling strike was resolved, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred.

The airline industry as a whole was shattered, and Delta Air Lines, Comair’s parent company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy just four years later on Sept. 14, 2005. Comair was brought into bankruptcy with Delta and costs were cut by millions of dollars annually. The company sought to save money through employee, flight and aircraft reductions.

Photo credit: N77022
Photo credit: N77022

Comair never seemed to recover from the hardships of the early 2000s. The company opened an additional hub and crew base at JFK Airport in New York in 2006, but troubles with staffing continued. That same year, Comair had the lowest percentage of on-time flights of all major United States carriers.

The new operations at JFK proved detrimental. The congested airport with serious staffing problems and an unfortunate terminal and aircraft ramp layout contributed to the company’s ratings dropping in DOT listings. Comair tied with American Airlines for the lowest on-time performance percentage in 2008, with just 70-percent of flights arriving on time.

In 2008, Delta Air Lines decided to reduce its domestic capacity by 4 to 5 percent. This led to Comair reducing its 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet fleet by up to 14 aircraft. Later the same year, Delta announced that it would further reduce the company’s domestic capacity. And in 2009, Comair was forced to reduce its staffing by roughly half. The company’s demise continued, and in 2010, Comair announced that all of the Bombardier CRJ100/200 aircraft would be removed from their fleet by 2012.

In July of 2012, Delta announced that Comair would officially be shutting down. The final Comair flight took off at Jacksonville International Airport and landed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Sept. 29, 2012.

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About the Author: Courtney McCaffrey

Courtney McCaffrey is a freelance writer and editor based in Wilmington, N.C. In addition to writing, she lives for travel - seeing new places, learning new cultures and surfing new waves.

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