Members of the Utah Air Traffic Commission fear that American and United airlines' plans to acquire routes between U.S. and London airports may hamper international service originating from Salt Lake International Airport.
United agreed in October to buy most of Pan Am's London routes for $400 million. American plans to buy TWA's London and other overseas routes for $445 million.If approved, American and United airlines would control two-thirds of the non-stop U.S.-London routes.
American Airlines has had authority since the 1970s to provide non-stop service from Salt Lake to J.F. Kennedy International in New York City but has not exercised the option, said commission member Robert Campbell.
"American has had an obligation to serve this community the past 20 years and hasn't done so. I have real concerns what they will do if they have international authority," Campbell said.
Campbell said he also is concerned about United's intentions because the airline has historically treated Salt Lake City as a "second-class market" as a backup to its Denver hub.
Not all commission members are convinced the route transfer would be bad for Salt Lake City. Commission member Robert Springmeyer said the proposed route sales may instead improve international service for travelers who use Salt Lake International Airport. "We may get better service than we're getting now from TWA," he said.
The commission instructed its attorney, William Gibbs, to contact the U.S. Justice Department, federal DOT and attorneys for the air carriers for more information about the proposed sales.
Commission Chairman Steve Lawson was asked to invite American and United airlines representatives to the group's February meeting to explain how the proposed route acquisitions will affect international service in the Intermountain area.
Lawson cautioned against discrediting American Airlines because it has not consummated a 20-year-old agreement. "I'm very uncomfortable about bringing up old laundry and throwing it up in their face because of 20-year-old decision by American."
Meanwhile, Delta Air Lines, which operates a hub at Salt Lake International Airport, has asked the DOT to conduct a hearing on the route transfer applications to consider the impact the route transfers would have on domestic and international competition.
Delta does not oppose the route transfers in principle, airline President and Chief Executive Officer Ronald W. Allen said.
Yet, the airline has many unanswered questions. "Never before has such an enormous restructuring of the international air travel market structure been proposed, and it is essential that the Department of Transportation consider all ramifications of any approval of these transfers," Allen said in a prepared release.
Delta has served London since 1978, with service from Atlanta and Cincinnati. The airline is seeking London service from its hubs in Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Orlando and Boston.