Delta Flight Museum debuts Johnny Isakson exhibit

The Delta Flight Museum has debuted a new permanent exhibit on recently retired U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson -- highlighting the close relationship between the Atlanta-based airline and the Georgia senator.

Isakson was a U.S. senator from 2005 until his retirement at the end of last year due to declining health complicated by Parkinson's disease.

"I've always viewed you as our champion in Washington," Delta CEO Ed Bastian said to Isakson at the Delta Flight Museum Tuesday. "When I think of Johnny Isakson I think of a true servant leader."

The case now on display at the museum on Atlanta-based Delta's campus near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport highlights what the senator did to help Delta fend off a hostile takeover attempt by US Airways in 2007.

At the time, Delta adopted a motto: "Keep Delta My Delta."

The exhibit also mentions Isakson's key role in 2006 in pushing through a plan that allowed Delta to restructure some of its pension plans while in bankruptcy.

Delta still ended up terminating its pilots' pension plan, which was taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp -- but the legislation allowed the airline to retain pensions for many other workers and retirees.

Current CEO Ed Bastian was chief financial officer for the airline at the time and called Isakson “a real hero in this.”

On Tuesday, Bastian said Isakson displayed “the statesmanship that we lack in today’s unfortunate environment, not just in Washington but I think around the world.”

“It’s pretty clear that [in] today’s politics there’s too much divisiveness,” Bastian said. “I hope someday we can restore that level of collegiality,” he said.

Bastian said Isakson also helped Delta in its campaign against what it considers to be unfair competition from Middle East carriers that get subsidies from their governments.

Bastian said Isakson “was always there whenever I needed or a friend or a counselor in Washington to talk to, to help make sense of what’s going on in Washington – the first place I always stopped was Johnny Isakson.”

Delta on Tuesday announced a $250,000 donation to the newly created Isakson Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting neurocognitive research and public policy.

“We’ve done so many things to break the cycle of diseases. There’s no reason we can’t do one more,” Isakson said. “It’s something that affects a million people.”