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Delta Air Lines may finally get the access to London's Heathrow Airport that it has long sought, but it won't be via Salt Lake City, and the airplanes will have Virgin Atlantic Airways - not Delta Air Lines - painted on their sides.

Atlanta-based Delta, which operates a major hub-and-spoke routing operation at Salt Lake International Airport, has been granted permission by the United Kingdom to implement "code-share/blocked space" service with Virgin Atlantic.Delta still needs approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation to implement the "partnership" outside of any new bilateral air services agreement.

Delta lost out on a bid to launch direct service from Salt Lake City to London when American Airlines won recent bids for new flights to London from Nashville, Tenn., and Raleigh/Durham, N.C. Delta has access to Gatwick Airport, outside London, but not to the closer and more heavily used Heathrow.

The code sharing agreement with Virgin Atlantic would allow Delta to book seats into Heathrow under its own name even though the aircraft and flight crews would not be its own.

Don Beck, zone manager in Delta's Salt Lake office, told members of the Utah Air Travel Commission Wednesday that code sharing is a "win/win" situation for airlines and their passengers.

Under the agreement, airlines agree to buy a certain number of each other's seats on specific flights. This, said Beck, spreads the overhead, marketing and liability of a flight between the two carriers and helps to fill seats that otherwise may fly empty - anathema to any air carrier.

Beck said Delta already has similar agreements with SwissAir, Sabena (Brussels), Aeroflot (Moscow) and Malev Hungarian Airlines (Budapest). Beginning June 15, a code-sharing agreement with Varig Airlines will open service to Brazil from six U.S. cities.

The code-sharing agreements are a way for airlines to gain access to each other's overseas markets with limited risk. For example, if a flight to London costs $20,000, Delta would agree to "buy" half the seats for $10,000. It would then sell the seats, under its own name, for an amount that it hopes would cover its costs and render a profit.

The agreement is a good marketing tool because when travel agents scan their computers for a flight between two destinations, they don't have to scroll down through several screens. They see that a customer can fly "Delta" to Heathrow all the way, when, in reality, they would be connecting with another carrier, such as Virgin Atlantic.

- Ted Wilson, chairman of the Air Travel Commission for the past two years, stepped down Wednesday, having fulfilled his term. Wilson passed the gavel to Dean L. Gustavson, a retired architect and private pilot who has been vice chairman under Wilson, who will remain on the board's executive committee for one more year.

Taking the position of vice chairman was Keith Christensen, a member of the Salt Lake City Council representing District 7. Hal M. Clyde becomes chairman of the executive committee.

- Alpine Aviation has been granted a new two-year federal contract to provide Essential Air Service (EAS) to Moab. No other airline applied for the $484,000 government subsidy (up from $462,000 last year) to provide service from Salt Lake City to Moab - three daily flights during the summer tourist season and two daily in the off season. Piper Cheyenne aircraft will continue to be used for the flights.

Grand Junction has been dropped from the Salt Lake/Moab flights because only 210 passengers on 600 flights last year wanted to travel to the Colorado city.

- Commissioners agreed to notify the Federal Aviation Commission of its opposition to restricting or eliminating access to airspace over Canyonlands and other national parks, at the request of Bonnie Lindgren, representing Utah Air Tours Operators and Red Tail Aviation, based in Moab.

June 16 is the final day for public comment on "voluntary and regulatory actions" the FAA is considering in light of complaints regarding noise, pollution and safety surrounding flights over national parks, particularly the Grand Canyon.