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Crash could hurt Comair's survival

ATLANTA - The deadly Kentucky crash involving a Comair flight could make the regional carrier's survival even tougher.

Comair has been operating under bankruptcy protection for nearly a year and has been battling with its flight attendants over pay cuts. Last week its parent, Delta Air Lines Inc., put some of its regional jet service out to bid - a move that could weaken Comair. Sunday's crash that killed 49 people puts Comair in an even more precarious position.

''Certainly, there's a large burden on both management and the employees,'' Standard & Poor's airline analyst Philip Baggaley said Monday.

Pete Janhunen, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents Comair's pilots, said many people saw the cost cuts coming, but no one expected the crash on top of that.

''The unfortunate truth is it is a Comair plane, and it will have some reverberation outside the Comair pilot group and the Comair airline,'' Janhunen said. ''I'd say it's probably too early to tell how this will all play out.''

Neither Comair nor Delta would talk about Comair's future on Monday, though Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said ''we will be answering those restructuring questions at some point.''

Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton said in an e-mail that the airline believes ''it is too early to have this conversation.''

''It would be insensitive to the families affected to do so at this time,'' Talton said, adding that Delta will revisit the issue ''when the timing is more appropriate.'' Delta has been largely silent since the crash, referring questions to Comair.

The problems facing Comair were already clear before Comair Flight 5191 crashed after trying to take off from the wrong runway at the Lexington, Ky., airport on its way to Atlanta.

On Aug. 22, Atlanta-based Delta said it had requested bids for some of its regional jet service, much of which is now handled by Erlanger, Ky.-based Comair. The announcement came a day before Comair was to return to negotiations with its flight attendants over concessions the company said it must have to get out of bankruptcy.