When two opportunities for nonstop commercial flights to London became available last year, Salt Lake City immediately applied for one of the routes.

However, in what was clearly an unjustified political decision, Washington awarded the routes to a pair of Southern U.S. cities. Neither had the airport traffic or the rapid growth of the Utah capital.But a new chance for one of the coveted nonstop London connections might occur next year. The U.S.-Great Britain bilateral air-route agreement probably will be redrafted in 1995, giving Salt Lake City another possible shot at a London air link.

Such a link is highly sought after since London is a prime destination for many Utah travelers - more than 22,000 a year. In addition, London is the gateway for hundreds of international air travel connections. International air routes are rare commodities since they can be flown only with the approval of the governments involved. Britain currently limits U.S. carriers to two franchises at London's Heathrow airport. United Airlines and American Airlines hold those franchises.

Several routes became available in 1993 after USAir gave up some of its London links in exchange for government approval of an investment deal with British Airways. American and Delta battled for the rights, but the federal government awarded both to American hubs in the South.

Delta subsequently filed suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation, claiming that political pressure rather than objective qualifi- cations were involved in the decision. Arguments will be made Feb. 17 before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C.

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But aside from the legal battles, the hope is that next year's U.S.-Britain negotiations would open a third franchise to Delta Air Lines and that Delta would offer a daily nonstop Salt Lake-London flight. Delta has the connecting flights that could funnel additional passengers into a Salt Lake-London link.

This will require enthusiastic support of all Utahns, but the case can be made easily. Britain is Utah's leading trade partner. Kennecott Copper, one of the state's largest employers, is owned by British interests. And a new $22 million international terminal is nearly ready for business.

The Salt Lake Airport Authority has hired a Boston-based aviation economics firm to gather research on selling Utah's argument that it is highly qualified to have an intercontinental flight connection.

In the meantime, Utah officials, Delta Air Lines and civic and business groups should work together to promote unified community support for a nonstop Salt Lake-London air traffic link. It would be good for the state's economy and for all of Utah's many overseas travelers.

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