Airport Aims Suit at Delta
The Moore County Airport Authority is suing Delta Air Lines over a $700,000 bill.
The 2007 contract between the two stipulates that the airline is entitled to compensation if revenues from seasonal flights don't reach guaranteed levels. But the Airport Authority's lawsuit contends that the airline did not live up to the terms of the service agreement.
"They fell short of the mark," said Tom Van Camp, an attorney for the airport.
The complaint, filed Wednesday in Moore County Superior Court, alleges that "Delta failed to provide quality service and operation under the 'Scheduled Serv-ice' and failed to provide the Airport Authority with the scheduled service during the 2007 period."
The complaint details scheduling errors, cancellations, flight delays, baggage that "was consistently lost," difficulty making reservations through Delta's reservation telephone number and via the company's Web site, and failed marketing efforts.
It contends that the above factors, and "other delays, problems and errors on the part of Delta, inconvenienced and alienated passengers, thus creating bad publicity, imposed serious TSA (Transportation Security Agency) scheduling implications, and created significant extra staffing costs to the Airport Authority."
Representatives from Delta declined comment.
Van Camp said it was unfortunate that the authority thought it necessary to bring the declaratory judgment action. He said he hoped both sides could reach "an amicable solution." If not, he said, he is "prepared to proceed with action."
Delta discontinued its seasonal service to Moore County in November. At the time, a spokesperson for the airline cited low customer demand and insufficient facilities as reasons. In December, the airline submitted a bill to the Airport Board for $700,000. The original contract stipulated that the Airport Authority would reimburse Delta if the airline lost money while providing service to Southern Pines.
The lawsuit alleges that "Delta intentionally failed to comply with the Scheduled Service because it is known that, notwithstanding its breach, Delta intended to force the Airport Authority to pay the revenues guaranteed."
For the past two years, Delta offered a daily round-trip flight between Atlanta and Moore County on a trial basis. The final flight came and went on Nov. 12.
Moore County Airport Manager Gary Barnum has said in previous interviews that the flight schedule and destination (to Atlanta) did not meet the travel needs of Moore Countians.
Thursday, Barnum declined to comment on the issue, referring all questions to Van Camp.
In 2006, Delta offered a morning flight from June to November. In 2007, it moved the flight to the afternoon when the service resumed for its second season in March.
In a previous story, Barnum said Delta had 86 delays and eight cancellations, ranging from 30 minutes to more than an hour, in nine months of service that began in spring of 2007. In that interview, Barnum said those delays "inconvenienced the customers" and cost Delta $16,069 to shuttle people to Raleigh to catch other flights and $2,620 more for lost baggage.
During the first year of the service, many travelers complained that the morning flight required inbound passengers to catch a red-eye connection into Atlanta or to spend the night there to make the flight back to Moore County.
Others complained of high ticket costs.
Barnum previously rebutted that claim, saying fares from Moore County were competitive with fares from other nearby cities like Fayetteville and Raleigh.
For the two years combined, 7,242 passengers flew on the Delta flights in and out of Moore County.
Before the agreement with Delta, Moore County had lacked commercial passenger airline service from April 2002, when Charlotte-based US Airways Express terminated service because of a sluggish economy in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2473 or by e-mail at tembrey@ thepilot.com.
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