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Op-ed: Export-Import Bank subsidy threatens U.S. airline jobs

Published August 22, 2014 6:23 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Earlier this year, the Brookings Institution reported that out of the nation's top 100 metropolitan areas, Salt Lake City had the ninth best economic performance during the recession and recovery. According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the number of jobs in Salt Lake City increased by 3.1 percent during that time and home prices dropped 19 percent. In short, the Crossroads of the West fared much better economically in recent years than most metropolitan areas in the United States.

One of the chief reasons our city is able to maintain a healthy economy is the presence of Salt Lake City International Airport, which acts as an economic engine across the region. The airport supports nearly 40,000 full-time jobs and $3.3 billion in total economic output, according to the most recent economic impact analysis. Much of the power for that engine is provided by my employer, Delta Air Lines, which operates a major hub at our airport.

Every day, Delta operates 260 departures to nearly 90 cities, including international nonstop service to Paris — the first trans-Atlantic service offered by any airline from Salt Lake City. And next year we plan to launch new nonstop service from Salt Lake City to Amsterdam.

As someone who has called Utah home since 1974, I've seen firsthand the importance of a healthy airport that can connect Salt Lake City with the world. It's important for our businesses, our community and our families.

Unfortunately, jobs made possible by Delta and other U.S. airlines are at risk because of an obscure federal agency that, until this year, most American's hadn't even heard of — the Export-Import Bank. The bank gives foreign airlines the ability to purchase new widebody aircraft with finance rates and preferential loan terms outside what's available to U.S. carriers. So U.S. airlines like Delta are forced to compete with foreign airlines that receive a subsidy backed by American taxpayers — a major advantage on highly competitive international routes.

Many of these foreign carriers are state-owned and already receive significant subsidies from their home governments, or are otherwise creditworthy and would have no difficulty accessing commercial loans to buy aircraft.

In a recent guest editorial in The Tribune, Larry Coughlin of Boeing claimed that aerospace jobs in the area could be affected in the future if the Export-Import Bank is shut down. There was no mention of the real threat the bank poses to airline jobs, and the strength of our economic engine at the airport, right now due to the bank's policy of favoring foreign carriers over U.S. airlines.

There is simply no reason to support a system that provides an advantage to foreign companies over American employers in Salt Lake, yet that's exactly what the Ex-Im Bank is doing. That's why Delta, as well as the Air Lines Pilots Association, has been advocating for reforms to the bank if its charter is reauthorized this year.

We're not opposed to the bank being reauthorized so it can continue to finance U.S. exports that otherwise wouldn't occur. That was the intention when it was created in 1934.

But Delta would like the bank to stop providing subsidized financing on widebody aircraft, which are used primarily in international markets, for foreign airlines that are owned or supported by governments, or are otherwise creditworthy. That is the only fair approach as we strive to compete in an increasingly global marketplace.

Perry Sloan, who lives in Salt Lake City, is the Delta Board Council Representative for Reservation Sales and City Ticket Offices for Delta Air Lines.