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Delta CEO after losing $38M tax break over NRA: 'Our values are not for sale'

By Ed Adamczyk and Danielle Haynes
Delta CEO after losing $38M tax break over NRA: 'Our values are not for sale'
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said Friday the carrier's intent to disassociate itself from the National Rifle Association was an effort to remain neutral in the gun rights debate. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

March 2 (UPI) -- Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said Friday the world's most valuable carrier won't back down from its decision to disassociate from the National Rifle Association -- even though it came with a hefty cost.

Last week, Delta rescinded a one-time travel discount for NRA members traveling to the organization's annual meeting in Dallas in May. The withdrawal was a response to the Feb. 14 school shooting in South Florida.

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The incident, in which 17 people died, reopened the gun debate in the United States and has prompted several companies to end their relationships with the NRA.

Following Delta's action, Republican Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, an NRA ally, promised to kill any tax exemptions for the airline in the state budget -- a tax break worth at least $38 million for Atlanta-based Delta.

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Thursday, Georgia lawmakers passed House Bill 918 by overwhelming margins after removing the exemptions.

Although the controversy could damage the state's pro-business image, Republican Georgia House Speaker David Ralston emphasized that there was a connection between the vote and Delta's distancing itself from the NRA.

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"I hope they are better at flying airplanes than timing PR announcements," Ralston said.

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In a memo to employees Friday, Bastian said Delta's intent was to remain neutral, after the firearms group offered controversial suggestions about school shootings, such as arming teachers.

"Our decision was not made for economic gain and our values are not for sale," Bastian wrote in the memo. "We are in the process of a review to end group discounts for any group of a politically divisive nature.

"We are proud supporters of the 2nd Amendment, just as we embrace the entire Constitution."

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After Cagle's comments, several states and cities -- including New York, Virginia and Cleveland -- publicly offered to welcome a relocation of Delta's headquarters. Bastian, though, said in the memo the carrier will remain in Atlanta.

Delta is Georgia's largest private employer, with 33,000 state workers -- and is the world's most valuable airline, by assets.

Delta's reaction came as more companies adjusted their gun policies Friday.

Outdoors retailer L.L. Bean said it would no longer sell guns or ammunition to people under the age of 21, following similar announcements by Dick's Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger earlier this week.

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Another outdoors retailer, REI, said it would no longer sell products distributed by Vista Outdoor, which owns gun manufacturer Savage Arms.

"This morning we learned that Vista does not plan to make a public statement that outlines a clear plan of action. As a result, we have decided to place a hold on future orders of products that Vista sells through REI while we assess how Vista proceeds," REI said.

"Companies are showing they can contribute if they are willing to lead. We encourage Vista to do just that."

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