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Delta Air Lines has received preliminary approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to suspend its service at Fort Smith Regional Airport.

Delta sought the approval to suspend service at Fort Smith and 10 other small airports under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, a federal law enacted to help mitigate the economic fallout of the covid-19 pandemic.

The airline received $5.4 billion under the measure. As a condition of the relief, Delta and other airlines receiving aid had to continue serving their domestic networks. But the Transportation Department has been granting airlines permission to suspend service to 5% of their destinations because airline travel remains slack.

"Carriers contend that services to certain points in their networks are unreasonable, impracticable, costly, and challenging to complete in light of public health and safety concerns," the department said in a notice published May 12.

The other airports at which Delta wants to suspend service are in Aspen, Colo.; Bangor, Maine; Erie, Pa.; Flint, Mich.; Lincoln, Neb.; Bern/Morehead/Beaufort, N.C.; Peoria, Ill.; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa.; and Williston, N.D.

"As permitted by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has instituted a process for airlines to adjust service where it is 'reasonable and practicable,' Delta will suspend operations at 11 airports, approximately 5 percent of the domestic airports Delta serves," the airline said in a statement.

The statement added, "All of these airports will continue to receive service from at least one other carrier after Delta suspends its operations."

Before the pandemic, Fort Smith was served by Delta with two daily flights to Atlanta, while American Airlines offered four and sometimes five daily flights to Dallas, according to airport Director Michael Griffin.

But that was when the airport was seeing 13,202 passengers in February. The April total, 704, was 5% of the February number.

Service now is limited to one flight daily by each airline, he said.

The Transportation Department will issue a final ruling after reviewing public comments.

For its part, Delta termed its move to suspend service at Fort Smith and other airports as an effort "to help reduce costs as we mitigate this unprecedented crisis due to covid-19."

"We will move quickly to implement these changes to our network and will share effective dates as soon as possible, as well as work to re-accommodate customers," it said in its statement.

The suspension would be through Sept. 30. Delta would be under no obligation to resume service.

For its part, the Fort Smith airport "looks forward to welcoming Delta Air Lines back after the suspension," Griffin said in a news release.

State Desk on 06/01/2020

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