Delta Air Lines officials will be in Salt Lake City today to meet with Jason Perry, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, as well as Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and others about the airline's pending merger with Northwest Airlines.
To prepare for the visit, Becker convened a meeting of the Air Transportation Promotion Alliance on Wednesday, seeking input from government, community and business leaders, as well as Salt Lake City International Airport officials, on questions to ask and airport strengths to emphasize.
"We want to be prepared as we can be ... and do what we can to make this a good result for Salt Lake City and the state," Becker said.
The mayor said he wants to keep the discussion as positive as possible, but there are also tough questions that need to be asked of Delta brass. Chief among those, he said, is how the merger will affect local Delta employees.
When Delta and Northwest on Monday jointly announced plans to merge, officials said the new airline would keep open all existing hubs. However, questions remain about the number of flights in and out of Salt Lake City and the personnel needed.
"It's a major concern for employees," Becker said. "We need to try to get a sense as soon as we can of what plans they have and how we can integrate into their future plans."
The combined airline's goals of reducing overhead and improving operational efficiency mean some jobs likely will be be lost in some places, said Joe Zeidner, legal counsel for 1-800-CONTACTS and a member of the Air Transportation Promotion Alliance.
Zeidner advised Becker to determine what efficiency improvements the new airline plans and how Salt Lake City and the state can help achieve those.
Perry said possible benefits of the merger such as the ability to add routes from Salt Lake City to Asia also should be pointed out during discussions with Delta.
"This is a chance to really enhance our opportunities," Perry said. "Our economy and work force is perfectly positioned right now to take advantage (of the merger)."
Plans to expand Salt Lake City International Airport also are a likely topic of discussion with Delta, Becker said. Those plans now call for approximately 40 gates to be added to the airport in the next 10 years.
Airport officials currently are working toward relocating the de-icing facilities, which now are located in the footprint of the expansion, said Maureen Riley, executive director of the airport. A cost estimate for the project is expected to be complete in about two months.
The plans also call for terminal facilities at the airport ultimately to be demolished and completely rebuilt in the next 10 to 20 years.
"The terminals are aging," Riley said. "We're evaluating how long we can actually preserve the facility we have now."
Becker and Huntsman formed the Air Transportation Promotion Alliance in January to respond quickly in the event of a Delta merger.
The merger still needs the approval of shareholders and the Department of Justice, which has 60 days to review the plan. The department can block the deal if it determines competition will be hurt.The new airline expects to have shareholder approval and complete the regulatory process of the merger by fall or winter of this year. Delta and Northwest then would begin integrating airlines, a process that could take about a year to 18 months.