US Airways pilots union protests Delta swap

ATLANTA — US Airways' pilots union said Monday that it is concerned a deal with Delta Air Lines to swap takeoff and landing slots could lead to higher fares and a reduction in service to smaller communities.

The US Airline Pilots Association said it sent a letter to the Justice Department seeking a full investigation on the impact of the proposed transaction between US Airways and Delta at New York 's LaGuardia and Washington's Reagan National airports.

The dispute pits the US Airways pilots union against its counterpart at Delta, which supports the slot swap deal. The Delta pilots union encouraged members in a memo Nov. 6 to help in the effort to get government approval.

In August, US Airways said it had agreed to transfer 125 operating slot pairs to Delta at LaGuardia. In exchange, Delta agreed to transfer 42 operating slot pairs to US Airways at Reagan National.

Slots, especially at peak times of day and in busy corridors like the Northeast, are valuable to airlines.

A slot is an interval of time during which an airline can take off or land its aircraft at an airport. A pair refers to cities airlines fly between.

The same week as the Delta-US Airways deal was announced, it was disclosed that AirTran Airways planned to stop flying to and from Newark, N.J., effective Oct. 25 and would give its takeoff and landing slots there to Continental Airlines in exchange for Continental slots at LaGuardia and National airports.

Continental has a hub at Newark Liberty International Airport, which is used by many travelers heading to or from New York City.

US Airways' pilots union said it thinks the Delta deal may raise antitrust implications.

"We are extremely concerned about the market concentration that this transaction would create if it is allowed to be consummated," union president Mike Cleary said in a statement. "Those conditions raise the prospect of much higher fares and, if history repeats itself, a reduction in service to smaller communities."

A spokesman for Delta Air Lines, based in Atlanta, said nearly 10,000 of Delta's customers and employees have voiced their support for the proposed transaction directly to the Transportation and Justice departments. US Airways Group Inc. spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said her airline, based in Tempe, Ariz., thinks the transaction will pass government review.

It's not clear when government regulators will reach a decision.