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Delta may expand S.L. service

New service may include 10 flights, including Midwest

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Delta Air Lines could begin serving as many as 10 new cities from Salt Lake City International Airport in 2002.

And that's in addition to new service recently announced by Delta from Salt Lake to Honolulu, Santa Barbara, Calif., and Eugene, Ore.

The other new cities were not disclosed, but airport officials speculated they could include markets in California, the Pacific Northwest and Midwest.

Wayne Aaron, Delta's director of international schedules and special operations, said the new destinations would be within 1,200 miles of Salt Lake City. That's because they likely will be served by the two dozen smaller, regional jets Delta will employ over the next two years in concert with its Delta Connection carrier, SkyWest Airlines.

"We are certainly going to be growing our position in Salt Lake, as this is really the cornerstone for our West Coast presence," Aaron said.

Aaron announced Delta's plans Thursday during the first day of the Hub and Regional Airports Conference, sponsored by the airport, at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.

It was welcome news for the attendees, many of whom represent smaller communities like Bakersfield, Calif., which have interest in nonstop service to Salt Lake City.

Tim Campbell, executive director of Salt Lake City International, also was pleased to know of Delta's intentions, especially considering the airline's decision in June to cut back its flight capacity systemwide because of the downturn in the U.S. economy. Delta suffered a $123 million net loss in the last quarter, Aaron said.

But when asked if the announcement represents a new commitment from Delta to maintaining its hub in Salt Lake City, Campbell said that was never in doubt.

"To say it's added security presumes we were concerned about it, and, frankly, I haven't been," said Campbell, who is nearing the end of his first year as airport director. "Every time I've talked to Delta since I've been here they've been positive about their hub and expansion for their hub."

Rumors of a possible change in location for Delta's western hub operations from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas were rampant last year and earlier this year, particularly around the time Delta sought, and won, a fuel tax break from the state Legislature.

After speaking at the conference, Aaron told the Deseret News it is also possible Delta will choose not to serve new markets from Utah next year. He said between "zero and 10" new cities would be connected with Salt Lake next year.

"We're looking at those markets east of Salt Lake, markets to the west," Aaron said. "The new markets we're looking at are a combination of all different type regions." Campbell said airport revenue and local tourism could benefit if Delta does connect new markets with Salt Lake.

"From the airport's perspective, it is revenue for us and that's a plus, obviously," Campbell said. "But in the sense that the airport serves the region in terms of business development, that's a plus as well."

David Dague, an airport and airline consultant with SH&E, Inc., of Boston, said Delta's plan to serve new markets with smaller aircraft is consistent with the recent trend in airport service on the East Coast. Since 1995, Delta has gradually transitioned its hub operations in Salt Lake so that fewer passengers are simply connecting with other flights in Salt Lake and more are traveling direct from point to point. The same trend has been observed at airports east of the Mississippi, most dramatically in Nashville and Greensboro, N.C., Dague said.

Dague, one of the featured speakers at the conference, said "there has been a shift in Delta's thinking" to place emphasis on the regional jets — a shift that reflects current industry trends.

"(Delta officials) have indicated they are making some changes and adjustments to make their system more efficient and more profitable for them," Campbell said. "But in terms of the overall trend, we see (Delta) increasing additional markets. The mainline service continues to grow, and I think the direct service to Honolulu is certainly a plus."

E-MAIL: zman@desnews.com