Airline deregulation has been a mixed bag for the industry and customers, but has helped the Salt Lake and Utah economies, according to Delta Air Lines officials.

Deregulation has meant higher prices for those traveling to less-popular destinations such as Salt Lake City.But the money goes right back to the local economy, said Bette Zuhars, Delta marketing representative in Salt Lake City.

"We feel we help this community's economy," Zuhars told American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics members meeting at the University of Utah.

An estimated 4,000 people are employed by Delta in Salt Lake. "So we put a lot of money back" into the state, and ultimately to consumers, she said.

Expansion is probably the most important effect deregulation has had on Delta, said Zuhars.

Deregulation allowed for more expansion of route systems, so now Salt Lakers can get to any of the 156 cities in 12 countries where Delta flies, she said.

"There are many positives associated with deregulation," Zuhars said. "But there are many negatives. One is deteriorating services."

Airlines, in their quest to become more profitable and competitive, have cut staffing levels, and in the process cut services.

Another drawback of deregulation is that airlines have not kept pace with customer demand for flights, she said. Add that to the number of airports built since 1974 - zero.

"We have to have new airports," said Capt. Dewey Gerrard, chief flight instructor for Delta's Western region. "During World War II, we built 103 airports in two years. Do you know now we can't do an environmental analysis in two years?"

Delta is in a fairly good position in the marketplace and with consumers, Zuhars said. The American Society of Travel Agencies picked the Atlanta-based air carrier as tops in customer service.

And for 14 consecutive years, Delta has ranked lowest in the number of complaints the Department of Transportation has received from passengers.