The friendly skies are abuzz with airline merger talks, and the potential impact on Los Angeles could be tremendous creating both headaches and opportunities.

LAX would be faced with reshuffling airlines from one terminal to another, posing logistical nightmares for the already over-capacity facility, even as it proceeds with plans to undergo a major expansion.

Meanwhile, Boeing Co., L.A. County's largest private-sector employer, would see its number of clients shrink, with mixed consequences. That, in turn, could impact the hundreds of thousands of aerospace subcontracting jobs in L.A.

And Angelenos, who have watched air fares rise over the past few years, may well have to suffer further hikes due to fewer choices and higher prices.

"If these mergers go through, that will change the entire story of the industry," said Michael Boyd, president of Colorado-based aviation consulting firm Boyd Group. "If several big airlines merge, facilities needs at LAX will change. A lot of things will change."

Any impact on LAX of UAL Corp.'s proposed merger of its United Airlines with US Airways Group Inc. would by itself likely be limited. US Air's share of the passenger flight market at LAX was little more than 2 percent in 1999, far less than United's dominant 22.6 percent share. And US Air operates at only a few gates, so moving across the airport to where United operates would hardly be a chore.

But combine that with a potential merger between AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, Northwest Airlines Corp. and Delta Air Lines Inc., and LAX could easily become a hornet's nest of disruption.

American and Northwest each have sizable operations that are situated far apart from each other. In contrast, the terminals used by American and Delta are located next to each other, but because the carriers operate on many of the same routes, some consolidation would be inevitable.

"You're not going to need two passenger terminals" in the wake of a potential American-Delta merger, Boyd said. "Sooner or later, that's going to mean available space."

Not a problem, L.A. airport officials maintain. While all the moving around would cause some logistical problems, there is so much demand for space that any vacuum would quickly be filled. LAX is a major gateway to the Far East and Europe, and foreign carriers are continually clamoring for more gates.

"There'd be some headaches, but it's doable, and someone will always fill the void," said Michael DiGirolamo, director of airport operations for Los Angeles World Airports, which runs LAX. "We'd be moving around a couple of carriers, but we've been moving airlines around for a year with all the (frequent flier) alliances there have been."


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