Editor’s Note: This is the 373rd in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington scenes.
HUNTINGTON — As a pilot flying corporate-owned airplanes in the 1970s, David R. Mueller sensed a business opportunity.
Mueller realized that the airlines were cutting back or eliminating their services to short-haul markets so he teamed up with his father, Raymond, and two other men to start their own airline to fill that gap.
Founded in 1977, Comair Inc. quickly grew from a family-owned business with three small planes to one of the largest and most profitable regional airlines in the country. By 1999, Comair was worth more than $2 billion and had a fleet of more than 100 aircraft that transported 6 million passengers yearly to more than 80 destinations.
Comair began serving Tri-State Airport in 1981, flying eight-passenger Piper Chieftain jet-prop aircraft to and from its hub in Cincinnati. Many passengers taking those first Comair flights at Tri-State were a bit disconcerted when, as they boarded, they were asked how much they weighed. But, as was explained to them, the small size of the plane meant that weight had to be evenly distributed around the cabin. The airline soon upgraded to a larger 18-passenger plane.
Ultimately, Comair began flying jets between Tri-State and Cincinnati. In 1999 it discontinued its service at Tri-State, saying the flights hadn’t been profitable for five years. But it began serving Tri-State again in 2004.
In 1986, Delta Air Lines acquired 20% of Comair’s stock. In 1999, it became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Delta.
But Comair’s days were numbered. When Delta filed for bankruptcy in 2005, it took Comair along with it. Before entering bankruptcy, Comair had more than 7,000 employees and 1,160 daily flights. It immediately began slashing its fleet, flights and workforce. But Delta decided those cuts weren’t enough and in 2012 shut down the much-shrunken regional carrier.