Delta to suspend service to Hilton Head Island for the off-season

September 8, 2010 

Delta Air Lines plans to suspend service to the Hilton Head Island Airport again this winter but will resume in early 2011, officials confirmed Wednesday.

Service will end Nov. 1 and resume March 3, Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said.

Delta conducted a similar suspension last year.

This year's plan is "a good sign" for the future of the route between Hilton Head and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Banstetter said.

"We're happy with it," he said.

Delta's partner, Mesaba Airlines, runs four flights per day Thursdays through Mondays and three flights per day Tuesdays and Wednesdays using a Saab 340 turboprop plane. Delta officials plan to continue that schedule when the service restarts next year, Banstetter said.

The Saab planes can hold 34 passengers, but the airline sells only 21 of those seats because of the weight limit required for the 4,300-foot runway, which airport officials believe is the shortest with commercial service in the continental United States.

US Airways, the island's other commercial carrier, offers year-round service from Hilton Head to Charlotte and to Washington, D.C.

Delta's plans for its Hilton Head service have changed several times since the airline began flying between its Atlanta hub and the island in 2007.

In mid-2009, for example, Delta announced it would end the service later that year.

The airline said the route was not making enough money in a slow economy and cited concern about the runway's length. Delta later reversed course and resumed service in March, saying it was responding to customer requests.

The airline made winter flights to Hilton Head in 2007 but has not since, Banstetter said.

Town Councilman John Safay said Delta's decision should quiet speculation the airline will leave if officials don't lengthen its runway to better accommodate regional jets. Safay favors lengthening the runway but only within the airport's existing footprint.

"(Delta officials) seem to have settled into a good little business model for our region," Safay said.

Charlie Reed of the Committee to Protect the Airport doubts Delta or any other airline will continue flying to Hilton Head in the long term if the runway is not extended beyond the airport footprint. The committee seeks to lengthen the runway, a goal it says is supported by an airport master plan that town and Beaufort County consultants are developing.

Airlines are phasing out turboprops and won't be able to continue serving Hilton Head if the runway doesn't grow, he said.

"You will not have commercial airline service if you don't extend this runway," Reed said.

Charlie Clark, a spokeswoman for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, said that organization is not concerned about Delta's plans for another suspension.

"It's just sort of the normal pattern," she said.

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