NWA shouldn’t fly south for good

Northwest Airlines may be leaving Minnesota through a controversial merger.

As the outlook for the U.S. economy continues to sour, it appears that the already struggling airline industry may be headed for some major consolidations. Delta Air Lines is exploring the possibility of merging with another company, and Eagan-based Northwest Airlines seems to be the leading contender. Delta Air Lines, based in Atlanta, has made it clear that its headquarters would remain in Georgia. Minnesotans would appear to be the losers if such a deal took place. Northwest provides thousands of jobs, and commands an impressive share of the Twin Cities airline market. An acquisition by Delta could leave a gaping hole in our local economy.

Northwest currently employs about 12,000 people in Minnesota, and it is unclear how many of those jobs would be affected by a merger. Minneapolis would most likely remain a hub for air travel, but the state would stand to lose jobs, taxes and a Fortune 500 company.

U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn, has voiced opposition to the merger but even as chairman of the House Transportation Committee, he has limited power over the deal. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has tried to remind Northwest about its promise to stay in Minnesota and all the great tax incentives our state has offered the company over the years, but it’s doubtful that any of this will impact the negotiations.The U.S. Justice Department gets the final say on this type of merger, so Minnesotans can cross their fingers and hope that a potential deal is deemed a violation of antitrust laws, but don’t hold your breath. The Bush administration has approved several airline consolidations, and no one wants to be too tough on the fragile airline industry.

Although dealing with Northwest’s near-monopoly at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport can be frustrating for travelers, the airline’s economic impact is certainly appreciated. All effort should be made to preserve jobs and keep Northwest in Minnesota.