Utah, Home of Major Delta Hub, Keeps Eye on Merger Reports

Utah, Home of Major Delta Hub, Keeps Eye on Merger Reports

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah officials are worried that a merger between Delta Air Lines and United Airlines could mean the end of Delta's Salt Lake City hub.

United has a regional hub in Denver. So would a combined airline sacrifice one of its Western footholds?

"I can understand why you'd have that question," Dave Williams, deputy director of the Utah Office of Tourism, said Wednesday. "But today's the first we've heard of it, and I'm not prepared to speak on it."

Executives at Salt Lake's airport were in a huddle over news of the possible merger and weren't immediately prepared to speculate on the outcomes, said David Korzep, the airport's operations superintendent.

UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and Delta issued statements denying an Associated Press report that they were discussing a merger.

But an official with knowledge of the talks stood by his account that discussions were in play. The Wall Street Journal's online edition reported that Delta's CEO has held informal talks with a number of possible suitors.

Also Wednesday, the Delta pilots union issued a statement saying it would not oppose a combination.

Delta and its partners operate 335 flights from Salt Lake City, and the loss of a hub would be a major blow to the city's prestige and the convenience of travelers.

In August, when Utah awarded Delta $250,000 as an incentive to add direct flights to Paris, Gov. Jon Huntsman called the new route a "huge deal." Those flights are scheduled to start next June.

Utah lawmakers also went to bat for Delta with federal regulators last December. Delta was fighting a hostile takeover bid by US Airways Group Inc., which didn't keep secret a plan to shut down the Salt Lake City hub if successful.

Huntsman was keeping an eye on reports of a possible merger. "It's just difficult at this point to speculate," his spokeswoman, Lisa Roskelley, said. "We just don't have any information at this point."

The talks were said to involve United keeping the name of a combined airline and its Chicago headquarters, and Delta's Atlanta hub being an operational center for the two carriers, according to an official who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because neither airline authorized the release of information.

Executives at the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, who have championed Delta's presence, didn't immediately return calls Wednesday.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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