By the time you read this, Delta Airlines could be in the process of being sold to US Airways or Northwest Airlines, or just still be struggling on its own to emerge from bankruptcy.

Whatever the outcome for both Delta and Comair, it's time to get used to the fact that air travel to and from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will be much different by the end of this new year, and in years to come.

But don't cry for Delta and don't be depressed by doomsayers. This is an opportunity for overdue, positive change.

The number of Delta passengers passing through CVG dropped by one-third in 2006...a stunning 30 percent loss. Flights were dropped and fares remained among the highest in the nation. Meanwhile, more and more Tristate residents drove to other airports in our 100-mile radius for business and personal air travel.

For years, Delta told us the high CVG hub fares were worth the price for two reasons: the convenience of numerous direct flights and the employment Delta brings to the region. Whenever anyone criticized the inflated fares"”including the small-business owners and entrepreneurs trying to build national and international accounts"”Delta would either ignore them or scare us. What happens, Delta would hint, if we pick up our marbles and take this hub elsewhere, or close up shop entirely? What about all those jobs and that economic impact?

Well, the job losses began mounting anyway, along with the pay and benefit cuts for Delta and Comair employees.
People used to say, what would we ever do without Delta? Well, we're going to find out. Whatever remains won't be like it was before.

And you know what? Greater Cincinnati will make the most of it. We may benefit from open market competition at CVG, with lower fares luring passengers back. We could see growth in private and charter flight options, including ones customized for those corporate customers who need more direct and day-tripper flights.

We might be surprised to see local air travel increase, saving or even growing the related jobs.

To realize the opportunities, we must change the way CVG is governed. Delta management was arrogant and often incompetent. The CVG airport board and the politicians behind it let us down, keeping all their eggs in Delta's flimsy basket.

The airport named for both Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky must be run in a way that fairly represents the people on both sides of the river. The time is right for federal, state and local officials from Kentucky and Ohio to convene and set this right, giving the airport a better chance to make the most of a new, exciting era.

Most important, let's drop this defeatist attitude. The troubles in the airline industry are a national problem. Other major metro areas have adjusted, or will have to. Let's show how Greater Cincinnnati can do it best.

Progress report: There's light ahead. Let's go for it.