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Are Delta's Turboprop Moves an Ominous Sign for Memphis?

It was noted earlier this week that Delta is planning to open a Saab 340 turboprop base in Atlanta. These aircraft are meant to replace the Atlantic Southeast ATR-72 aircraft that are currently on their way out of the fleet, but more importantly this move signals the beginning of what is likely to be many aircraft shifts as a result of the Northwest merger. It also appears that this could be a bad sign for the viability of the Memphis hub.

No current Delta regional partner flies the Saab 340 for them, so these aircraft will undoubtedly have to come from Northwest's Mesaba subsidiary which has 49 of them (plus another 18 stored). It should be expected that this would happen with any merged airline. The idea is always to rationalize the allocation of the fleet, and this is certainly only the beginning of that effort.

But what's most interesting to me is what it might mean for Memphis, a hub that I always figured would disappear in this merger despite Delta's public pronouncements to the contrary. There are only 12 ATRs flying out of Atlanta, so this could be a really small Saab relocation (assuming it doesn't grow). Still, my guess is that those Saabs will come straight from Memphis. And the more that they chip away at that hub, the less they will be able to rationalize keeping it.

I continue to expect Memphis and Cincinnati to look like Pittsburgh does for US Airways now. They will probably be much smaller operations with flights only to places that can support direct service and to a handful of regional locations to feed the them into the network. Assuming these turboprops do, in fact, come from Memphis, then this is the first step in that transformation.

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