Last updated: 02:00 PM ET, Mon May 09 2016

Could Delta's 'Brand Perfect' Idea Change Regional Airlines for The Better?

Airlines & Airports | Delta Air Lines | Josh Lew | May 09, 2016

Could Delta's 'Brand Perfect' Idea Change Regional Airlines for The Better?

Photo courtesy of Delta Air Lines

The Regional Airline Association is hosting its annual convention this week in North Carolina. Unlike larger airlines, which are celebrating record profits, many regional carriers are struggling. This year’s convention is being held under a cloud of bankruptcies and pilot shortages. 

Regional airlines faced with major issues

Republic Airways recently filed for bankruptcy and other airlines have had to scale back their service because of new FAA regulations, which have led to a major pilot shortage. The new rules, which require fliers to have 1,500 hours of flight time before they qualify to be co-pilots, were a response to a series of incidents and accidents involving regional carriers caused by pilot error.

The problem has been compounded by the fact that the regionals are struggling financially and cannot pay pilots enough to make the extra training and flight time worthwhile. This means that the shortage could continue into the future if nothing changes.    

READ MORE: Republic Airways Files for Bankruptcy

Dealing with pilot shortages

It is no surprise, then, that one of the most anticipated events at the convention is a panel discussion titled "Growing Tomorrow's Pilot Workforce.” 

Some airlines have gotten creative with their hiring practices by employing would-be pilots in other jobs so that they can fund their training and flight time. Others have been lobbying the FAA to change the current 1,500 hour minimum for co-pilots. The rule is up for review later this year, and a lower minimum could be very helpful for these struggling airlines. 

Delta wants to reward quality

For at least one airline, however, the biggest issue is quality. According to Delta Connection VP Eric Snell, the key to success for regional partners is to follow the “Delta blueprint.” 

What is the Delta blueprint? Delta has found success by improving on some of the fundamentals: on-time performance and customer service basics. One of the mantras of new CEO Ed Bastian is “brand perfect days.” This means a day when there are no cancelations across all of Delta’s brands (mainline and regional carriers). 

READ MORE: American Eagle to Further Separate From American Airlines

This desire for reliability is one of the main reasons that Delta decided to step up and help Republic Airlines financially during its bankruptcy proceedings. Snell explained the move: “They're a good partner for us, one of the more reliable partners. There's a need for good operators like them."   

Could this idea bring better service to regional flights?

Delta’s demand for performance from its regional partners could end up being good for everyone. Consolidation has left only three major airline partners for regional carriers. Many of the independently owned regionals work for all three, so competition can be quite stiff and profit margins extremely low. 

Now that Delta is letting it be known that it is putting a premium on reliability and service, regionals could potentially make themselves more attractive by aligning more closely with Delta’s brand image and embracing (at least on the surface) the “brand perfect” mantra. 

Delta’s aid to Republic shows that it is willing to overlook other faults (as serious as bankruptcy) if regional partners can perform.

The two other legacies have shown that they are willing to follow Delta’s lead in many matters, so if they also start rewarding better performance from their regional partners, it could lead to better service for fliers who have to rely on these airlines.  

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