Air Transport World

Delta is ready for life after Eastern. (includes related article about Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport) (company profile)

Atlanta-The Delta people don't gloat over the demise of their longtime antagonist, Eastern Airlines. In fact, some of them appear to be genuinely saddened by it. The two airlines fought it out for so many years, with the focal point of the struggle the bustling Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport here. It seems strange now to see one, Delta, alive and vibrant, while the other is represented by dozens of airplanes with the protective yellow plugs on the engines and sealing tape over the door seams clustered around the closed C Concourse.

Just a few years ago, the two airlines matched each other here with a combined total of more than 700 daily departures. For most of the 1970s and the first half of the 80s, Eastern competed with Delta on about 85% of its route system. As recently as 1986, Eastern led Delta in passenger boardings. In 1980, Eastern boarded more passengers than any other U.S. airline. Now it is gone.

Eastern's death is having a major impact on both Hartsfield (see box, page 46) and Delta. Just a few years ago, airlines were elbowing each other for gate space at what then was the second-busiest airport in the world. Now the entire C Concourse, or about 20% of the domestic gate space, lies dormant. Meanwhile, Delta has been pursuing its steady, methodical expansion. Management never stated publicly that it was preparing for the end of Eastern but somehow, you knew it was on their minds. in any case, Delta now has taken up some of the slack at Hartsfield, with daily departures up to about 455 or so. The number varies from week to week. For some time, Delta occupied all of the first, or A, Concourse and half of the second, Eastern sharing the second and using all of the third. Everybody else shared the fourth. Delta has purchased 18 of Eastern's B Concourse gates to take over all of that concourse in addition to its own A Concourse. it has 72, or about half the gates at Hartsfield.

But Delta's expansion goes far beyond Hartsfield. While Eastern was being wracked by its long and bitter civil wars followed by the ultimate and fatal ravaging by the "finance" invaders, Delta was pumping money into its plant methodically, and systematically expanding its domestic network. Even more important, Delta was developing its international system both east and west, with new routes to Europe and the Far East. As recently as 1985, Delta's international RPKs represented just 7.3% of its total passenger traffic. Last year, international traffic accounted for 13.7% of the total.

On the domestic front, Delta, as Ronald W. Allen, its chairman and CEO likes to point out, ". . . is not just Atlanta any more." in the 80s, Delta developed five additional hubs: Los Angeles and Salt Lake City in the West, thanks largely to the acquisition of Western Air Lines, Dallas/Ft. Worth and then, Cincinnati and Orlando in the East. The domestic system is close to the classic H" that analysts said major U.S. airlines should have if they are to prosper. Delta has had significant North-South strength in the East going back to its acquisition of Northeast Airlines. It obtained and then developed similar North-South strength in the West with Western, whose route system extended from Alaska to Mexico. Western's Salt Lake City hub and the Dallas/Ft. …

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