Delta getting closer on integrating Northwest

About half of the old Northwest Airlines planes that will get Delta's colors have been repainted, and the rest will be finished by mid-2010, a Delta executive said on Thursday.

Delta has painted about 138 of the 250 Northwest planes that are getting a new paint job, said William Lentsch, Delta Air Lines Inc.'s senior vice president for Minnesota operations. That doesn't count smaller planes for Northwest's regional operations Compass and Mesaba airlines.

Northwest planes that are being retired, such as some of its aging DC-9s, aren't getting the Delta colors, he said.

Delta bought Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest last year and has been working to integrate it ever since.

Minnesota lawmakers called Lentsch to testify at a committee hearing for an update. They're especially interested because Delta has agreed to keep 10,000 jobs here through 2016 and 400 flights a day at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Lentsch also said that Delta:

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- Employs about 13,000 Minnesotans, and that most of the job transfers to Delta's Atlanta headquarters are finished. He said he doesn't expect them to get close to the 10,000 floor anytime soon;

- Is meeting its commitment for 400 flights a day at the Minneapolis airport;

- Expects to have a single operating certificate from the FAA by the end of this year. Currently Northwest is still operating as a subsidiary under its own operating certificate.

Northwest ticket and gate agents in Minneapolis and Detroit are getting weeklong training on Delta's new, integrated computer systems, he said.

The integration is happening at a time when the industry is shrinking dramatically because of a sharp drop in business travel and steeply discounted leisure travel. He said the airline industry's capacity is down about 7 percent compared with a year ago - the steepest drop since 1942, the first full year the U.S. was fighting in World War II.

The industry is in "a very weak revenue environment," Lentsch said. "We don't see any real near-term recovery on the revenue side."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)