Responding to soaring commercial air fares, Murdock Travel announced Friday a low-priced, round-trip shuttle service to Los Angeles, which will ignite a local fare war on charter flights to southern California.

The Murdock chartered flight will travel to Los Angeles three days a week, beginning Jan. 23 for $79-$99 each way.Coach fares for a round trip to Los Angeles on Delta Air Lines, which schedules the most flights out of Salt Lake International Airport, range from $198 to $590.

"This announcement comes in response to recent increases in airline price hikes," a Murdock news release said.

Responding to Murdock's new shuttle offer will be local charter giant Morris Air Service, slashing its round-trip fare to Los Angeles by $20, to $59-$79 each way beginning Jan. 23.

Additional competition in the charter business, which Morris has dominated the past five years, "will be good for the consumers," said David Neeleman, Morris Air's executive vice president.

Asked if the future drop in Morris Air's fare will prompt a further price cut in Murdock's new service, Murdock president Wayne Chamberlain said, "Probably not.

"We think we have a superior product."

Handling the shuttle service for Murdock will be Phoenix-based America West Airlines. Terms of the agreement with America West were not disclosed.

The flight will operate Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, originating in Los Angeles. On Mondays and Wednesdays, a leased America West Boeing 737 series 300 will leave Los Angeles at 8:10 a.m., arriving at Salt Lake International at 10:50 a.m. The flight will depart for California at 11:40 a.m., arriving at Los Angeles International at 12:20 p.m.

On Saturday, the shuttle leaves Los Angeles at 7:05 p.m., arrives in Salt Lake at 9:35 p.m., leaves for California at 10:10 p.m., arriving at 10:40 p.m.

Fares range from $79 to $99 each way, depending travel days and whether a round-trip fare is purchased. Round-trip flights leaving and arriving on Wednesday will be $79 each way, while travel on Monday and Saturday is $89 each way. But $10 will be added to the price if a traveler buys only a one way ticket.

The agency has also arranged for tickets to be available at all Smith'sTix outlets, located in 18 Smith's supermarkets along the Wasatch Front, as well as Murdock Travel offices and selected agencies. "It (Smith'sTix) gives us more and better distribution of our product," Murdock vice president Roger Stratford said.

Murdock noted that America West, being a commercial airline, must met stricter guidelines for safety and timely service than other charter carriers - implying Morris Air Service's carrier, Skyworld Airlines, doesn't have to meet the same standards.

But, while Morris Air has acknowledged delays with its charter flights, the company said service has improved, and Neeleman added that another competitor will force the company to get better. He said he is confident Morris will regain any market share it might initially lose to Murdock.

"We know this market and we are convinced there is room for only one charter. It's not that big," he said. "Eventually there has to be one and we feel it has to be us."

Neeleman explained that in addition to offering a lower fare next month, its Los Angeles charter flies every day and twice on Monday and Wednesday. "Our times are more conducive to Salt Lake travelers."

He said Morris Air Service charters flights to seven cities, and Los Angeles accounts for a minority share of the company's revenues, which grossed $25 million last year.

Stratford said Murdock's studies indicate enough traffic to Los Angeles exists to justify another charter service and the agency will explore service to more destinations.

Murdock will use the Los Angeles shuttle as a connecting flight for its scheduled service to Hawaii on Pan Am, said Dick Jensen, president of Jensen-Baron Travel, Murdock's wholesale travel unit.

Air fares to L.A.

Morris Air Service (on Jan. 23) $59-$79

Murdock Travel (on Jan. 23) $79-$99

Delta Air Lines (current coach fare) $198-$590