US Airways Claims Salt Lake Will Remain a Hub

The president of US Airways on Wednesday asserted again that the Delta Air Lines hub at Salt Lake City International Airport would survive his company's proposed merger with Delta with no loss of service or jobs.

"Some of the people saying that perhaps don't really understand airline and hub economics," said Scott Kirby in a telephone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune shortly after US Airways raised its hostile bid for Delta to $10.2 billion. "What matters is if there is a large enough local market, and there is a large enough local market in Salt Lake to support more than one hub."

Kirby also said Delta's large reservation call center in Salt Lake would continue because it's wise to have reservation centers in several places.

Delta has repeatedly disputed US Airways' pledge to continue the Salt Lake hub, even though it has a hub just 500 miles away in Phoenix, near its Tempe, Ariz., headquarters, as well as a large operation in Las Vegas. Bankrupt Delta - which employs 3,900 people in Salt Lake City including 580 pilots and 760 in its reservations center - had no immediate response to Kirby.

But Delta pilots said the sweetened bid increases the chances that the Salt Lake hub would disappear after the merger.

"No one familiar with the airline industry, outside of a couple of executives at US Airways, thinks that the Salt Lake hub would survive a hostile takeover," said Ed Thiel, a Salt Lake-based Delta pilot and member of the Air Line Pilots Association's Delta unit executive committee.

Kirby said the hubs in Utah and Arizona's capital cities would be "complementary instead of competitive," with Salt Lake routes emphasizing "northern tier" city destinations coast to coast and Phoenix routes centering on "southern tier" destinations.

"We will keep the Salt Lake hub in place for the same reasons that Delta has," Kirby said. "It's not altruism. It is a rational economic decision."

Kirby said there would be fewer aircraft flying in and out of Salt Lake after a merger. But the reduction would be in line with US Airways' previously stated plan to cut fleet capacity by 10 percent.

"Some downsizing is possible, though it would be minor downsizing. And it's important to note that we will serve every city that [the two airlines] currently serve in the United States" without raising fares, he said.

That means small markets like Bozeman, Mont.; Sun Valley, Idaho, and Cody, Wyo., currently served by SkyWest Airlines, which flies as Delta Connection for Delta, would continue to receive service, Kirby said.

"It's a positive for those cities," said Kirby. "We would now have a much larger [airline] network to feed customers into those cities."

Delta has said the merger would reduce service to Utah. It has said the two airlines have overlapping routes to 64 cities from Salt Lake, Phoenix and Las Vegas, underscoring its view that at least one hub would be unnecessary if the merger is approved by the bankruptcy court, federal regulators and, ultimately, Delta's unsecured creditors.

"We will lose aircraft and we will lose jobs, not to mention Salt Lake City as a hub probably would cease to exist," said Mike Dunn, a Salt Lake-based Delta pilot.

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