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DELTA, 3 EUROPEAN AIRLINES WIN APPROVAL FOR PARTNERSHIP

Delta Air Lines and three European carriers have won preliminary approval to coordinate services as though they were a single airline.

Transportation Secretary Federico Pena tentatively approved an antitrust exemption permitting the deal involving Delta, Austrian Airlines, the Belgian carrier Sabena and Swissair. The final decision is due after May 28 following public comment.A similar deal between United Airlines and Lufthansa German Airlines, approved earlier, was made final Tuesday.

The deals allow the airlines to cooperate in scheduling service and organizing their systems to work together as though they were a single airline.

"This partnership will enhance overall global competition," said Pena. "It will also allow the United States to take maximum advantage of the opportunities provided by our open skies accords with Austria, Belgium and Switzerland."

The agreement does include conditions designed to protect competition in three markets where the airlines now compete: Atlanta-Brussels, Atlanta-Zurich and Cincinnati-Zurich.

The Delta and United agreements are likely to increase travel directly between the United States and the participating European countries. That will put added pressure on England, which has been reluctant to permit more flights by U.S. carriers into its popular London Heathrow Airport, the hub for many travelers to change planes en route to other destinations.