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Delta once broke a headquarters commitment


New York, Washington state, Minneapolis and other cities and states around the country have been wooing Delta Air Lines’ headquarters as the company faces hostility in Georgia amid an NRA-tax break fight.

On Wednesday, as the state legislature in Georgia stripped a tax break for Delta after the airline ended a discount for NRA members, Connecticut’s governor and airport authority entered the fray with a pitch to Delta to move its headquarters.

“Given the recent comments from Georgia’s lieutenant governor, Casey Cagle, concerning your decision to cancel discounts for NRA members, I ask you to consider relocating your headquarters to the great state of Connecticut,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy wrote to Delta CEO Ed Bastian.

Connecticut Airport Authority executive director Kevin Dillon said in a written statement, “we would welcome the opportunity to host the airline’s headquarters in Connecticut.”

He added that “we are committed to doing whatever necessary to help make this relocation a reality.”

Those hoping for Delta to make a move should know that Atlanta-based Delta signed a 20-year lease in which it committed to keep its headquarters in Atlanta.

But there are caveats.

In the airport lease with the City of Atlanta, Delta agrees to maintain its headquarters in the city of Atlanta or within 15 miles of the airport. If Delta violates the headquarters covenant, it would forfeit its share of revenue sharing from concessions and other sources at Hartsfield-Jackson for the remainder of the lease. 

However, that doesn’t prevent the airline from moving jobs, facilities or operations from the headquarters.

And Delta once broke a headquarters commitment, less than 10 years ago. It was, in fact, a move to keep its headquarters in Atlanta.

When Delta acquired Northwest Airlines in 2008, Northwest had an agreement to keep its headquarters in the Minneapolis area.

The headquarters commitment gave the airport commission there the power to demand repayment of $245 million in bonds it had issued on behalf of Northwest.

But within months Delta had reached a deal to get out of the headquarters commitment by agreeing to keep 10,000 jobs in Minnesota and maintain a certain level of flights at the Minneapolis airport.

And two years later, Delta paid off the remaining $170 million worth of airport-backed bonds – relieving it of the jobs commitment. The airline in 2011 closed its training centers in Minnesota and moved maintenance work and flight training to Atlanta.

The move of jobs at the time generated an outcry in the Twin Cities area. "Delta made a commitment to keep many of these jobs in Minnesota," said then-Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., in a written statement. He said Delta was "backing away from that promise."

Today, Delta has about 8,000 employees in Minnesota.


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About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.