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Delta says it plans to end service for Meridian

Delta Air Lines says it plans to end service to Meridian because of rising fuel costs.

Delta said in a statement Monday that it had notified the U.S. Department of Transportation that offering unsubsidized flights between Meridian and Atlanta is no longer economical. The company said it intends to discontinue service June 16.

Meridian is about 300 miles from Atlanta.

“Delta would prefer to continue offering customers the convenience of scheduled air service between Meridian and Atlanta; however, the unprecedented spike in fuel prices in the last year has made it impossible to offer profitable scheduled service in the Meridian market,” Joe Esposito, Delta’s managing director for network planning, said in the statement.

Meridian Airport Authority president Tom Williams said Delta’s announcement will not leave east Mississippi without air service.

“This means several scenarios can occur,” he said at a news conference Monday. “The bottom line is Meridian is guaranteed air service by the United States Department of Transportation.”

Williams said Delta wants to stay in Meridian and may be able to do so if the company is granted status into the Essential Air Service Program, which would pay it subsidies from the federal government.

“Fuel has gone up by 80 percent in the last 12 months,” Williams said. “Even though the seats are all taken on these flights, fuel costs have really taken a big chunk of the profits. And Delta is just coming out of bankruptcy as well, so they really need to watch every dollar.”

While it is possible Delta could remain in the Meridian market, officials said bids would be sought and the lowest bidder that can provide the service will get the Essential Air Service Program status.

“It might be someone else other than Delta but they have expressed to me they would like to stay here if at all possible,” Williams said. “We won’t, however, be without service of some kind.”

Mayor John Robert Smith said that after hearing of Delta’s plans, he immediately contacted state and federal officials about keeping air service for Meridian.