Continental Airlines has put in a bid for the Eastern Airlines reservation center in Salt Lake City, providing hope for some agents who lost their jobs when bankrupt Eastern stopped flying and closed the center last month.

The proposal to buy the center is conditional upon approval by the bankruptcy court handling the liquidation of Eastern's assets.Continental, which is also operating under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy code, has received approval from its creditors to pursue purchasing Eastern's reservation centers in Salt Lake City and Tampa, Fla.

The judge over Eastern's bankruptcy Friday approved the sale to Continental of six A300 aircraft and 64 slots at New York's LaGuardia Airport.

"If everything goes as scheduled, we would hire 500 to 800 people to start here (Salt Lake City) by May 1," said Dave Atherley, district sales manager for Continental, which operates six flights out of Salt Lake International Airport.

But Atherley cautioned former Eastern reservation agents not to hold out too much hope for Continental's pending rescue. "They should try to obtain better employment than wait for us," he said.

He explained that Continental plans to close its reservation centers in Los Angeles; Richmond, Va.; and Washington, D.C.; and employees at those centers would first be given the opportunity to transfer to Salt Lake City or Tampa.

Eastern ceased operating Jan. 18 and closed its Salt Lake reservation center about two weeks later. The 65-year-old airline collapsed after a crippling strike forced it into bankruptcy. While operating under Chapter 11, Eastern restored service by hiring replacement pilots and selling assets, but it remained unprofitable.

Deseret News wire service reports said Eastern obtained bankruptcy court approval Friday to sell its aircaft, slots, gates and other assets.

Included in the sale were five gates and 67 landing slots at Washington National Airport, which went to Northwest Airlines for $35.5 million.

Eastern also auctioned off 10 L-1011 aircraft and spare parts to Delta Air Lines Inc. for about $60 million.

Several Eastern executives testified about the need to complete the sales quickly. They said there was a major glut of aircraft for sale, with more carriers expected to put aircraft on the market.