I-Team: Comair shutting down?

HEBRON, Ky. - Multiple sources inside and outside Comair told the 9 News I-Team that pilots and other employees fear the airline may be shutting down.

Pilots with Comair said they believe the target date to close is Oct. 1.

Cincinnati-based Comair is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta Airlines. A Delta spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny reports of Comair's closure, but the parent company did release a statement to the I-Team.

"In view of significant changes in the economic and competitive conditions in the regional airline industry in recent years, Delta continues to explore strategic alternatives for Comair, as previously announced. Until a final decision has been made, we cannot comment further." -- Kristin Baur, Delta Corporate Communications.

The Delta statement mirrors an internal memo sent to all employees by Comair's president, Ryan Gumm. That memo also used the words "final decision" and said that decision should be coming from Delta by the end of July.

Comair was founded in 1977 and quickly became an innovator as a regional airline. Comair pioneered the use of the CRJ regional jet to replace outdated turboprop aircraft.

Delta came to rely on regional jets from Comair and other affiliates as it added flights to and from its major hubs, CVG included. Comair was the only carrier to operate out of Concourse C at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Concourse C was shuttered by Delta several years ago.

There was talk of Delta phasing out Comair following an 89-day strike by more than 1,300 pilots in 2001, shortly after Delta bought the airline. They fought for decent pay and decent work conditions, saying they were often on call for 16 hours a day.

Talks popped up again in 2006 when Delta began cutting the number of Comair's aircraft and flights.

In 2010, Delta announced it would be slashing Comair's fleet in half by the end of 2012, and reducing staff to levels needed to operate a much smaller airline.

Recent announcements from Delta show an additional reduction in 50-seat regional jets this year, further limiting Comair's role if the airline is to survive.

Sources told the I-Team that certain orders for supplies and schedules for training do not exist beyond Oct. 1, 2012.

A search for flights on Delta.com shows a different regional carrier handling the CVG to LaGuardia route after Oct. 1. Comair is still listed as the carrier for that city as late as the last week of September, but then disappears from the schedule in early October.

But Comair has not been completely removed from Delta's schedule in October. Comair is still the carrier on some October flights we checked between CVG and Nashville, and CVG and Detroit.

Comair remains Delta's only wholly-owned regional airline, with others serving as affiliates under carriage agreements.

Losing Comair would be a loss for Cincinnati, but it has been more like a slow motion tragedy. 

There have been a slew of changes since Comair started in 1977. That's when a father and son duo, Raymond and Dave Mueller, Dave just in his 20s, decided to start an airline.

But in less than 20 years it was setting trends for what a regional airline could be. By the end of 1999, it was a multi-billion dollar business, had expanded concourse C at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, and had more than 750 daily flights.

Then Delta bought it.

More than a year later, there was the 89-day strike. The 9/11 attacks hampered the industry, and there were talks of another strike in 2006.

By 2011, Comair was a shell of itself.

There are drastically fewer planes, fewer people and a shrinking number of flights.

Delta has previously sold two other regional airlines it once owned, and there's still a possibility Comair could be sold if Delta can find a buyer.

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