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Tue, Aug 29, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Kentucky air crash deals fresh blow to struggling Comair

AP , ERLANGER, KENTUCKY

The fatal crash of a Comair regional jet on Sunday morning dealt an emotional blow to a commuter airline trying to emerge from bankruptcy.

"These are tough things and it's very difficult," Comair president Don Bornhorst said at a briefing in a hotel near Comair headquarters in northern Kentucky. Choking up at times, Bornhorst said he was "emotionally devastated" and said he's certain all of Comair's 6,400 employees share those feelings.

Bornhorst pledged that the carrier would do all it could to help with the investigation of the crash while also keeping up normal operations.

"We all recognize that we're professionals in an industry that has these risks, and you hope and pray that these things do not happen, but when they do, the team we have at Comair is one that will work through this," said Bornhorst, who was promoted from chief financial officer to president three months ago.

Customer service

"We will continue to offer service to our passengers, we will do it in a certainly safe manner and with the customer service emphasis that we have always had with our flights." he said.

Comair, a Delta Air Lines Inc subsidiary that offers 850 flights daily to 110 cities, last suffered a crash on Jan. 9, 1997, when an Embrarer 120 flying from Cincinnati to Detroit crashed in icy conditions near Monroe, Michigan, killing all 29 people on board.

The carrier now flies all Bombardier CRJ's, most of them 50-passenger planes. Its fleet also includes some 40-seaters and 70-seaters. The plane that crashed on Sunday was a 50-passenger plane Comair said it bought new from Bombardier, a Montreal-based company, in January 2001.

Bornhorst said the plane had "a clean maintenance record."

Bombardier has about 1,300 of the regional jets flying for a variety of carriers worldwide.

Like its parent, Atlanta-based Delta, Comair filed for bankruptcy protection in September last year and has been restructuring. Both hope to emerge from bankruptcy by next summer.

Concessions

Comair has been seeking concessions from its unions, and last week reported some progress after two days of negotiations with its flight attendants.

The carrier wants US$7.9 million in pay and benefit cuts and work rule changes from its 970 flight attendants. A federal bankruptcy judge in July ruled that the company could void its contract, but Comair has been trying to work out an agreement. Flight attendants had said they would consider job actions if negotiations failed.

Comair earlier reached agreements with its pilots for US$17.3 million in cuts and for US$1 million from its mechanics, but those deals were contingent on Comair getting US$8.9 million in givebacks from flight attendants. Comair met with both of those unions early this month after reducing the amount needed from the flight attendants, but neither Comair nor the unions would discuss their talks.

Comair also had to rebound from a Christmas 2004 holiday weekend debacle, in which a computer system failure forced cancelation of more than 1,000 flights.

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