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Delta says it can’t predict when schedule will be back to normal

A top Delta executive, COO Gil West, said it was still unclear when the second-largest U.S. passenger airline would be able to resume its normal schedule the cancellations of 1,600 flights in two days had profoundly disrupted company operations.

“When Delta doesn’t fly aircraft, not only do customers not get to their destination, but flight crews don’t get to where they are scheduled to be,” West said in an online posting Tuesday, according to the Reuters news service.

Not only was there lingering slowness in Delta’s computer system, he said, but merely restoring pilot and crew schedules in compliance with federal rules would probably take a considerable amount of time.

This week’s downtime and glitches were compounded by last year’s expiration of Delta’s ticketing and baggage agreement American Airlines Group Inc., the industry’s largest carrier, Reuters said.

Delta said on its website Tuesday that it had cancelled 680 flights as of 5:15 p.m. EDT and that 2,400 has departed as scheduled.

On Monday, Delta cancelled around 1,000 flights, Reuters said.

Delta also said it was extending its waiver of flight change fees through Tuesday and was offering $200 in travel vouchers, in addition to rescheduled flights, to inconvenienced customers.

The problem started Monday in Georgia, near Delta’s main hub in Atlanta, when a switchgear that controlled power at its headquarters failed, according to Georgia Power, which provides electricity to most of the state.

Some critical systems did not automatically switch to backup power as planned, West said, after the main power supply switched off.

American and Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) also have suffered flight disruptions this year due to data system malfunctions, Reuters said.

Industry analyst Jim Corridore of S&P Market Intelligence said he expected a detailed explanation of what happened from Delta, even though the airline generally has a lower number of flight cancellations than its competitors.

“We would appreciate first of all a breakdown of what they’re spending on IT because that’s not really clear to us,” Corridore said.

“We know what planes they’re buying,” he said, to give an example of disclosed technical purchases.

Delta has not announced what the disruption cost in terms of lost income, but Corridore estimated that the cost of refunds, overtime and other expenses would likely reduce Delta’s operating income by as much as $20 million in the third quarter.

Delta had net income of $1.3 billion and operating income of $2.2 billion last year, Corridore told Reuters.

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