No employees at the Salt Lake City International Airport will be laid off as result of Delta Air Lines' pending merger with Northwest Airlines, Delta CEO Richard Anderson said Friday.
"The (Salt Lake City) hub is important to Delta today and will be an important part of the combined airline after we close the transaction toward the end of the year," said Anderson, who will lead the new airline. About 3,500 Delta employees work in Salt Lake City.
Anderson and Delta chief financial officer Edward Bastian paid a visit to Utah Friday to meet with government leaders, LDS Church officials, employees and airport officials to discuss the merger and respond to questions about how it will affect the airline's western hub.
Delta and Northwest have typically served different markets, and only 12 city pairs are served by both airlines, Bastian said. That means competition in most cities will not be affected and prices will not rise.
Salt Lake City and Minneapolis and Salt Lake City and Detroit are among the 12 city pairs.
"We will be having discussions" about what to do with those flights, Bastian said.
The executives' comments pleased local officials.
Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker, Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen and representatives from the governor's office and airport were reassured during a 45-minute meeting with Delta brass Friday morning that local furloughs will not be a consequence of the merger.
"We have been enormously encouraged, both in terms of where we are today with the airlines and the Salt Lake City hub and what the opportunities for us are in the future," Becker said.
Delta and Northwest on Monday jointly announced their intentions to merge, along with plans to keep open all existing hubs. If the merger receives approval from the Department of Justice and from shareholders, the new Delta would be the world's largest airline.
The Delta executives this week also have visited other Delta hub cities New York, Atlanta and Cincinnati. In an interview Friday afternoon with the Deseret News, Bastian said that part of the reason for the visits is to talk with employees. During merger talks, Delta was restricted by the Securities and Exchange Commission and its own rules from discussing details with employees.
The executives met with two different groups of employees Friday employees at the Delta phone reservation center and employees at the airport.
But after the meetings, some workers were still worried, including Bruce Church, a ramp worker at the Salt Lake airport who is helping organize employees. He's collecting signatures for a petition for an election to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO.
"It was a love-fest, happy talk it always is," Church said. "I'm a little concerned in one of the worst depressions in American history, with two airlines that are losing money to become one airline that is losing money. I think there is a lot of happy talk."
Delta is not giving enough details about seniority or what it's they're going to do in cities where there is job duplication between Northwest and Delta, Church said.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has been particularly interested in seeing the merger increase Salt Lake City's international reach for Utah companies that are increasingly doing more business abroad, said Jason Perry, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. Huntsman is recovering from shoulder surgery and did not attend the meeting Friday with the Delta officials.
Northwest operates a hub in Tokyo and has routes to other cities in Japan, as well as to Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan.
In June, Delta is beginning a nonstop flight between Salt Lake City and Paris. The popularity of that flight will influence whether other international flights will come into Salt Lake City.
"I think we'll have a better understanding of these international routes once we have (begun) that one," Bastian said.
High fuel costs have been cited as a catalyst for the merger and ultimately will determine the number of Delta flights in and out of Salt Lake City, Anderson said.
"With fuel prices where they are," he said, "that does have an effect on capacity over the long term."
Delta and Northwest each have fuel networks, and a merger between the companies will help the proposed new airline get the best fuel prices, Bastian said.
Also, the proposed new airline will have $7 billion at the end of the year in liquidity. The proposed new airline will be much better positioned to "weather the storm" of rising fuel costs than other airlines, and be better positioned "if others fail," Bastian said.
Delta has reduced its fleet by about 75 airplanes in the past year, cutting capacity in response to rising fuel costs, Anderson said. The airline will continue to make those capacity adjustments as fuel prices dictate, while the merger awaits approval and during an anticipated yearlong year-long transition phase, he said.
How that affects consumers really is dictated by the market, Anderson said."Over the long run, the price of an airline ticket just like filling up your car with gas or paying your home utility bill has to reflect the full cost of fueling," he said.