Delta Airlines officials say the proposed merger of their computer reservation system with American Airlines may protect the public from potential unfair pricing.

Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam said earlier this week he is concerned the merger may violate federal antitrust laws. Delta and American combined would control nearly 50 percent of the computer reservations market. Van Dam has joined other states in asking U.S. Department of Justice officials to take a close look at the implications of the move.But Delta spokesman Neil Monroe said Tuesday the Delta and American systems are the only two owned and operated by single airlines. All of the three other U.S. systems are jointly owned by more than one airline.

Reservation systems owned by one airline are more likely to artificially control prices, he said.

The merger also will help the airlines sell reservations in foreign countries where laws sometimes are more strict.

"In many foreign countries we can't market because we have a single owner," Monroe said.

Delta and American filed pre-merger papers with the federal government in January. The Justice Department is required by law to investigate and sanction the merger before it can be carried out.

"We've been working closely with the Justice Department to answer their concerns," Monroe said.

Van Dam said Tuesday he is concerned about the merger primarily because Delta is one of the largest employers along the Wasatch Front.

If one company becomes too powerful, airline fares could rise as the public has fewer choices available, said officials in Van Dam's office. Van Dam said the Justice Department's 1984 merger guidelines prohibit mergers in highly concentrated markets unless extraordinary factors make it necessary or desirable.

Computer reservation systems provide travel agents with an information source by which to book all transportation and hotel reservations. The five systems compete fiercely for the services of travel agencies.

The computer reservations market began in the late 1970s. Monroe said Delta, the smallest of the five with business accounting for only 5.1 percent of the market, entered the business late.

American is by far the largest of the five systems, controlling 41.3 percent of the market.