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Raising a new set of objections to UAL Corp.’s controversial acquisition of US Airways Inc., four airlines are asking the government to block the deal on the grounds that it would give UAL too much control over several key international routes. In a series of recent filings with the Department of Transportation, America West Airlines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and AMR Corp., the parent of American Airlines, said that the deal will unfairly strengthen UAL’s roster of international flights, particularly to Europe and Canada. UAL, based in Chicago, is the parent of United Airlines, the nation’s largest carrier. The U.S. Department of Justice is leading an antitrust review of the $11.6 billion merger and is believed to have serious objections to the deal. But the airlines argue the U.S. Department of Transportation should oppose the deal based solely on its effects on international competition. Arlington, Va.-based US Airways currently flies to 16 countries in North America and Europe. On Wednesday, a US Airways spokesman defended the merger. “As we said in our filing, there is no overlap in terms of UAL’s and US Air’s international route structure,” said Richard Weintraub. “This will retain competition.” Most of the complaints center on US Airways’ service to Gatwick Airport, London’s second-largest, from its hubs in Charlotte, N.C., Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. According to the filings, United runs 91 weekly flights to London, including several to Heathrow Airport, a controlled-access airport that is considered London’s best. United should not be allowed to supplement its access to Heathrow with more routes to Gatwick, the airlines argued. “The Department must conduct a detailed public interest analysis … in order to determine the most pro-competitive use for these valuable London routes,” Phoenix-based America West said in its filing. American Airlines also objected to United’s taking over US Airway’s flights to Toronto and Frankfurt. United is a member of the Star Alliance, a code-sharing agreement that is immune to U.S. antitrust laws. Air Canada, the dominant carrier in Toronto, and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, the leading airline in Frankfurt, are also members of the Star Alliance. “If the United-US Airways transaction proceeds, the Department should reopen the United-Lufthansa and United-Air Canada antitrust immunity dockets,” Dallas-based American argued. Delta and Continental were more ambitious, pressing the Transportation Department to use the international review as a chance to consider the deal’s broader ramifications. The merger would upset the balance of competition both within the United States and abroad, Delta claimed in its filing. “The route systems of each of the existing U.S. carrier networks are equally imperfect. Each carrier has strengths and weakness, and those attributes balance out against their rival competitors,” the Atlanta-based airline said. If approved, the US Airways deal would give United the first nationwide carrier network, Delta added. The airline went on to say that the Department of Transportation would have to let United’s competitors merge just to stay even. Meanwhile, Houston’s Continental put in a plug for its $215 million offer to buy 222 US Airways slots at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. Those slots are unsuitable for most international flights because National Airport’s landing strip is too short to accommodate most jumbo jets. “Continental urges the Department to disapprove the proposed transfer of routes … until the Department is satisfied that effective competition can be ensured by development of a new hub at Washington Reagan by Continental.” Of the six major airlines, only St. Paul, Minn.-based Northwest Airlines Corp. has not filed an objection to the deal with the Transportation Department. America West is not considered a major carrier. Copyright (c)2000 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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