The Department of Transportation has given Delta Airlines the green light to temporarily suspend service to the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport through the end of September as the industry struggles to survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They’ve received preliminary approval to suspend until September 30,” Deanna Zachrisson, business development manager for the airport, told the News-Press.
“They’re still waiting for a final order as to whether they’re going to be allowed to do that. I would anticipate, on the fact that they were successful in other markets, that they will be. It’s just a question then of what they actually decide to do. It gives them the flexibility to suspend service until the 30th and we’ll have to wait and see exactly what they decide to actually do.”
The CARES Act requires air-carriers to maintain service to airports they served pre-pandemic to receive federal funds, but airlines successfully lobbied the department to grant exemptions.
On May 22, the department issued a notice allowing carriers to request exemptions from their service obligation up to 5%, or five airports, whichever is greater.
Carriers that secured exemptions include Alaskan Airlines, United, American, Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit.
Delta has also suspended service to Aspen, CO, Bangor, ME, Erie, PA, Flint, MI, Fort Smith, AR, Lincoln, NE, New Bern, Morehead and Beaufort, NC, Peoria, IL, Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, PA, and Williston, ND.
Prior to these new exemptions, Delta was approved to suspend service to airports in Longbeach and Burbank.
“They have had a strategy of requesting to suspend service in cities where they felt like there was a close enough airport where they can continue to offer service,” Ms. Zachrisson told the News-Press.
The request to suspend service to Santa Barbara came as a surprise to the airport, as Delta’s service was still new to the market.
“They started service last August, so one would think that they would try to maintain a presence in the market, but then again these are exceptional circumstances, exceptional times,” said Ms. Zachrisson.
Delta’s service consists of three daily flights to their hub in Salt Lake City, and was one of the more popular local services.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Delta flights out of Santa Barbara were typically 85% full, but since the outbreak their flights remain below 60% capacity.
“Which of course is not sustainable in the long run. It is a very popular service out of Santa Barbara so we’re hoping that we can retain it,” said Ms. Zachrisson.
Currently, Delta has flights scheduled through June 8, so airport officials anticipate any action will be taken in mid-June.
Ms. Zachrisson and Airport Director Henry Thompson are scheduled to speak with Delta on Monday to ascertain the specifics of their plan.
“We’ve assumed that they will be successful in getting their application approved, and then we just have to figure out what they actually do,” said Ms. Zachrisson.
While the airport hopes to retain Delta’s services, Ms. Zachrisson does not anticipate the change to impact airport operations significantly.
Passengers that may have used the Delta service to Salt Lake City may use United flights to Denver or American flights to either Dallas or Phoenix, said Ms. Zachrisson.
“Those passengers will still have other options, it just won’t be through Salt Lake and it won’t be on Delta,” said Ms. Zachrisson.