Baucus, Tester urge Delta not to terminate Butte air service

Senators Question Plan to Make Butte an Essential Air Service Community, Call for Meeting with Delta CEO

(U.S. Senate) – Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester are urging Delta Air Lines reconsider its plans to end current service to Butte’s Bert Mooney Airport. In a letter to Delta CEO Richard Anderson today, Baucus and Tester opposed Delta’s plans and asked to meet with him.

The airline also announced today it is working to make Butte and 23 other airports across the country eligible for Essential Air Service federal subsidies.

“I’m going to fight this plan because it is completely out of touch with the needs of Butte families and businesses,” Baucus said.  “Trying to turn Butte into an Essential Air Service community is a blatant effort to get more federal subsidies and abuse the intent of the program. Butte is central to our state’s economy and is making important strides forward for Montana jobs. Today’s news is a step in the wrong direction and Butte deserves better from Delta.”

“Butte is a strong, growing market with access to tremendous job opportunities,” Tester said.  “As it does in other Montana cities, Delta can find success in Butte.  But it’s going to take smart business decisions and a long-term commitment.  Today’s decision by Delta was not a smart one, and I look forward to getting answers about it.”

In 2008, Baucus and Tester successfully convinced Delta to continue service to Montana communities during the process of its merger with Northwest Airlines. Today, the senators reminded Delta of its promise and requested a meeting with the company’s CEO, Richard Anderson as soon as possible.

Earlier this year, Baucus successfully fought an effort to gut the Essential Air Service program which is designed to make sure smaller rural communities have reliable passenger air service. While Baucus and Tester are strong supporters of the Essential Air Service program, they argue Butte is large enough and should have access to continued Delta service without federal subsidies offered through EAS.

Text of letter follows and is also available HERE.

July 15, 2011

Mr. Richard Anderson
President and CEO
Delta Airlines
1030 Delta Blvd.
Atlanta, Georgia 30354-1989

Dear Mr. Anderson: 
We understand that Delta Airlines seeks to terminate its current service at Bert Mooney Airport in Butte, Montana with the intention of applying for Essential Air Service (EAS) subsidization from the U.S. Department of Transportation.  We urge you not to do so.   

As you know, Delta and Northwest Airlines provided us with the attached letter in 2008 during the then-pending Delta-Northwest merger.  In it you acknowledge the significance of the Delta and Northwest operations to Montana’s economy, and you state that you would “continue to serve every city in Montana … and maintain frequency and gauge levels.”  

In its FAA bill, the House of Representatives voted to eliminate the program entirely.  Accordingly, the Senate-House FAA bill conference committee is currently considering the role of EAS and what kinds of communities should qualify for EAS funding.  Among Montana’s eight EAS communities, most of them have only several hundred enplanements annually.  In contrast, Butte has approximately 26,000, the seventh-highest total in the entire state.   

We understand the challenges facing Delta today.  However, we would note that Bert Mooney Airport’s revenue has increased by 9% and passenger count has improved by 7% since December, according to the Department of Transportation. 

We stand ready to work with you to continue in your efforts to achieve success in Butte.  We appreciate Delta’s commitment to our state and the jobs that depend on Delta and its service.  However, we believe that success can best be met by continuing to develop its relationship with its customers throughout southwestern Montana.  We hope to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss this issue of critical importance to our state.


Max Baucus                  Jon Tester
U.S. Senator                 U.S. Senator
(end letter text)