Justice Dept. Opposes Antitrust Immunity for Northwest, Delta

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department on Friday opposed antitrust immunity for Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and several European carriers, saying there is a significant risk that an arrangement between the airlines would hurt competition.

Northwest and Delta are part of SkyTeam, an alliance aimed at easing competition from low-fare domestic rivals and expanding their networks internationally.

This is the first request from the alliance to the U.S. Transportation Department for immunity relating to two major U.S. airlines. The other airlines involved are Alitalia, KLM, Air France and Czech Airlines.

The airlines ''seek antitrust immunity to coordinate their worldwide operations,'' the Justice Department said. It noted that the airlines have agreements in the areas of sales, fares, seat allocation, revenue management, schedules, frequent flyer programs and many other parts of their operations.

The SkyTeam alliance allows airlines to sell seats on flights operated by their partners, thus attracting more passengers without having to invest in new planes or develop new routes.

''Immunizing an alliance between these two U.S. airlines risks significant harm to certain international and domestic competition,'' the Justice Department said in a filing with the Transportation Department.

The airlines are seeking antitrust immunity largely on overlapping airline networks, not end-to-end extensions of networks.

''This situation increases the risk of harm and reduces the potential benefit to consumers,'' the department said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press