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Airline merger has positives, negatives for Ohio passengers

Delta boasts the most daily departures out of Port Columbus with 34. Northwest has a dozen departures each day. The merger of these two airlines, coupled with the failure Skybus, could leave Central Ohio passengers with fewer flight options.

Port Columbus Vice President David Whitaker says overall the airline industry is facing hard times. He says with fewer available seats Delta and Northwest will regulate costs more.

"Certainly the merger of these two carriers is a way to respond to industry conditions and sort of control capacity," Whitaker said.

Delta cited rising jet-fuel prices among reasons for the proposed merger. Fuel prices were also named as a culprit for the downfall of Columbus-based Skybus. Whitaker says passengers can expect more expensive flights while the industry rebounds.

"There needs to be a little bit of give on the fare's side and consumers may need to be paying more and more to keep this industry afloat," he said.

Whitaker says he does not expect Delta and Northwest to immediately cut flights or lay-off Columbus based workers.

Airline officials did say they will maintain their current hubs, including Delta's in Cincinnati. Doug Steenland is the CEO of Northwest.

"I think all of those hubs are going to have a very secure future in this merged entity going forward and will be able to make a contribution to the profitability of this airline," Steenland said.

But an industry analyst says a change in the route system is inevitable, it's just too early to say what the direct impact will be. Jim Ott is the contributing editor of Aviation Week.

"You're blending two systems and I think there's going to be some elimination," Ott said. "There almost has to be in some cases. But Cincinnati might be better off in some respects. It's just difficult to say." Ott says the merger could give Cincinnati better access to flights to Asia through Northwest's service in Detroit.

"They have a franchise there which they've been operating since 1949 and it's going to be a big boost for Delta, I think, to tie into that franchise," Ott said.

The Justice Department is looking at how the proposed merger will affect consumers. But analysts see the deal eventually winning regulatory approval. The airlines say they want to complete the transaction by the end of the year.

Ohio Public Radio station WVUX contributed to this report.