Utah Politicians Voice Delta Merger Concerns to Gonzales

Dec. 14 -- Utah House and Senate leaders have sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urging him to consider what might happen to Utah and consumers if US Airways' unsolicited bid for Delta Air Lines is completed.

The bipartisan letter, dated Dec. 4, was made public Wednesday. It was signed by House Speaker Greg Curtis; House Minority Leader Ralph Becker; John Valentine, president of the Senate; and Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich.

Although the letter did not ask Gonzales to reject the $8.5 billion merger, it raised several risks that the lawmakers said could damage Delta's hub at Salt Lake City International Airport and hurt the economy of the West.

The letter said the proximity of US Airways' hub in Phoenix raises the possibility that the combined companies could close or cut operations at the Salt Lake hub.

If the hub is shut down or scaled back, the number of flights and nonstop routes Delta and US Airways operate from Salt Lake could be reduced, the legislators said. That could lead to fewer airline choices for consumers and higher ticket prices.

"Although we understand that merger discussions are at the earliest of stages, it is important that key governmental bodies remain alert to ensure that a healthy, competitive airline market exists within each of the regions of the country," the legislators said.

US Airways has said the Salt Lake hub would not be harmed by the merger, although its mission would be changed. The hub would focus on destinations in so-called "northern-tier" states, while the Phoenix hub would fly more to southern-tier states.

Delta officials are skeptical. Ed Bastian, the airline's chief financial officer, said a merged company probably could not afford to operate both hubs, as well as US Airways' secondary hub in Las Vegas.

The lawmakers said they have asked Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff to take steps to ensure that the merger would not undercut "the strong, competitive airline market Utah currently enjoys."

Copies of the letter were sent to Shurtleff and members of the Utah congressional delegation.

US Airways announced its surprise bid on Nov. 15. Although Delta has promised to consider it, the company has repeatedly said it wants to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a standalone airline.

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