The news of a merger between Delta and Northwest airlines was met with congratulations and optimism Monday from state and Salt Lake City leaders who have been preparing for the announcement for the past three months.
"Congratulations to Delta and Northwest on this new chapter in their history," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who teamed with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. in mid-January to form the Air Transportation Promotion Alliance.
The coalition of government, community and business leaders was formed amid rumblings of a Delta Air Lines merger, inviting dialogue about how it would affect Salt Lake City International Airport, the Atlanta-based airline's Western hub.
Delta and Northwest jointly announced the merger Monday, along with plans to keep open all existing hubs.
"I think it's good news," said House Speaker Greg Curtis, R-Sandy, a member of the promotion alliance. "Hopefully it will help stabilize Delta's presence here not only for keeping the hub in Salt Lake City, but for expansion and growth, which is critical to our economy."
Lisa Roskelley, spokeswoman for Huntsman, said the governor also is optimistic about the merger, calling it "good news for the state." Huntsman was scheduled to speak Monday night with Delta CEO Richard Anderson, who will be chief executive officer of the combined company.
"Delta is a critically important corporate citizen of Utah," Roskelley said. "We're excited to keep the existing jobs here, and we look forward to working with Delta to look at the possibilities of expansion and bring new jobs and other opportunities and benefits to Utah."
Curtis and Roskelley both cited the recent legislative session as an example of the state's commitment to Delta and recognition of the airline's importance to Utah's economy.
In addition to providing a $5.7 million tax break for the airline, legislators also eased Delta officials' concerns by removing Salt Lake City's ability to use airport revenues to fund a $35 million portion of a light-rail line on airport property. An alternate funding stream was created for Salt Lake City, which owns and operates the airport.
"I think it definitely strengthened our position to keep Salt Lake as a hub going forward in the future," Curtis said, "and it showed our commitment to the ultimate expansion of the hub."
Becker said he will work closely with Delta officials as the two airlines transition into one.
"I am hopeful Salt Lake City can continue to partner with Delta to enhance our historically strong relationship and address concerns of the airline employees and our airport that may arise during the merger process," he said.
The focus of the Air Transportation Promotion Alliance now shifts from preparing for a merger to proactively looking for opportunities for the state and its capital city to benefit from it, said Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen."Now that we know the direction (Delta is) going, we can respond to that in a much stronger, favorable way," said Christensen, the City Council's representative in the alliance. "I look forward to being able to take a look and see what things we can do."