Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Coalition gathers
20,000 signatures
against merger

Citizens for Competitive Air Travel
contends having one airline
will lead to job losses

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

A coalition of citizens opposed to the proposed merger of Hawaii's two main air carriers yesterday presented Gov. Ben Cayetano with a petition with more than 20,000 signatures stating its case.

"We're concerned about the anticompetitive nature of this merger, which will hurt all the citizens of Hawaii," said Richard Port, former chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii and spokesman for Citizens for Competitive Air Travel.

The group believes the merger of Aloha Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines ultimately would lead to significant job losses and higher ticket prices that would have a ripple effect throughout the state's economy.

"The dollars that will be spent on additional ticket prices when the prices go up will be fewer dollars that can be spent for Hawaii's businesses," Port said.

The airlines announced the proposed merger in December citing financial difficulties stemming from state's economic downturn after Sept. 11.

"We will evaluate everything that you guys have prepared plus talk with the attorney general before a decision is made," said Sam Callejo, the governor's chief of staff, in accepting the petition.

The governor has said he supports the merger based on meetings with the airlines' chief executives who have said the merger is a financial necessity. A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately return a telephone message left yesterday.

Several class-action lawsuits on behalf of groups including employees and shareholders have been filed in state court seeking to block the merger.

Additionally, the state's three Republican senators have asked the U.S. Justice Department to block the merger.

And yesterday, Rep. Neil Abercrombie released a letter sent to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta about the merger.

Abercrombie said he was concerned about maintaining a minimum level of service and affordable fares due to the fact that interisland travel is heavily dependent on the airlines.

"As you analyze details of the proposed merger," Abercrombie wrote, "I respectfully request that you consider the potential impact on the level of service and the price of fares in light of Hawaii's unique geographical composition."The coalition said it believes the airlines should seek other ways to stay afloat.

"They haven't taken advantage of some of the other alternatives that they have available to them, including going to the federal government for additional revenues related to Sept. 11," Port said.

"They also have not taken advantage of the state's offer of loan guarantees, so there are these various alternatives that we would like to see them explore first."

The coalition collected the signatures over the past six weeks and plans to submit more as they come in by mail, Port said.

Stu Glauberman, a spokes-man for Aloha Airlines, said executives had no comment on the petition. Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner also declined comment.

Greg Brenneman, the former Continental Airlines president who is overseeing the merger of Aloha and Hawaiian, has been canvassing the state speaking to employees, shareholders, town hall meetings and community groups to drum up support for the merger.

A spokeswoman for Brenneman said he was traveling and would have no comment on the petition.

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