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Lawmakers pledge air service support

ST. PAUL - Legislative leaders pledge to do what they can to protect rural Minnesota air service as Northwest Airlines becomes part of the world's largest air company.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, however, said there is little the state can do to mold the new Delta Air Lines, which will swallow Northwest if federal authorities approve.

The state and Northwest have agreements to keep that airline's headquarters in the Twin Cities, but Northwest and Delta leaders say they are dead set on the headquarters moving to Atlanta once the merger wins federal approval.

"They could very easily just buy themselves out of that," Pawlenty said Friday of the $200 million-plus it would take to buy out the contract.

There are no state contracts about keeping existing service to communities such as Bemidji and Duluth.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said that even if legislators have little direct say in such matters, they will work with Pawlenty and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Kelliher said there probably is not much that can be done in the four weeks left during the legislative session other than educating legislators on the issue.

"There will be an impact," House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said about air service outside the Twin Cities. "We don't know what that impact is."

Two legislative committees plan Northwest-related hearings. The House Commerce and Labor Committee hears from airline and union officials, as well as airline experts, on Friday. The Senate Business, Industry and Jobs Committee plans a similar hearing on April 30.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.