Happy landings: SLC, Delta sign major deal. Here’s what it means for Utah travelers.

The move will help pay for continued airport expansion and provide passengers with nationwide connections for decades to come.

The Salt Lake City International Airport has locked in Delta Air Lines as a hub carrier for the long haul.

The city and airline finalized a contract last month that will keep the company in Utah’s capital until at least mid-2044, with an option to extend the lease another 10 years.

It’s a landmark deal that will keep revenue flowing to the airline in Salt Lake City, give the airport the financial backing it needs to pay for a 16-gate expansion on concourse B, and ensure Delta passengers in Utah and across the West have a reliable connection point to the rest of the country for decades to come.

Airport Executive Director Bill Wyatt declined to comment on the contract’s finalization but spoke publicly about the deal at a Salt Lake City Council meeting in September.

“I’m pretty sure there isn’t an airport-airline lease agreement as long as this one will be when it’s executed,” he told council members.

The council approved the spending for the gate expansion in September. The airline signed off on the deal Dec. 8.

The accord, Wyatt said, represents a commitment that is worth billions. In return for agreeing to the long-term relationship, he said, the airport will give Delta a larger share of ancillary revenues.

“So in good times, they do really well,” Wyatt told council members. “If they throw more traffic into Salt Lake, they’re going to do better. In bad times, we’re protected, and our debt service is paid, and the bills get paid.”

SLC a key hub for Delta

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Delta Air Lines signage at the baggage claim area in Salt Lake City International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

Edward Russell, editor of Skift’s Airline Weekly, said the lease extension is confirmation of the importance of Salt Lake City to Delta and assures travelers of the carrier’s long-term commitment to the Beehive State.

“If they weren’t extending the lease,” Edwards said, “or if they were doing it for, say, five years, it would be a red flag for me that maybe Salt Lake City is not as important to Delta as it once was.”

And Salt Lake City is important, Russell said, because it is Delta’s only hub that connects passengers in the West to the East Coast, and is one of only two hubs in the Intermountain West.

“Salt Lake City is strategically positioned, and Delta is in a unique position as the hub carrier in Salt Lake City,” he said, “to take advantage of that and really provide good service.”

Airline industry analyst Bob Mann sees nothing surprising about Delta’s contract extension in Utah’s capital. The company, he said, made a similar move in New York.

“Airline commits to a long-term stay and level of operations,” he wrote in an email, “which commits to a lease and landing fee payment stream, which allows the airport to bond out infrastructure improvements.”

Carrier has big plans

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Delta Air Lines employees check boarding passengers at Salt Lake City International Airport, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022.

So far, the carrier hasn’t had much to say about its renewed commitment to serving travelers in Utah.

“Delta is excited about the continued growth of our important Salt Lake City hub,” a spokesperson said in a statement, “and we’ll have more to announce in the coming weeks.”

Mayor Erin Mendenhall hailed the agreement as well.

“Salt Lake City’s strong economy, skilled workforce and welcoming culture continue to attract investments — big and small — from companies around the world,” she said in a statement Thursday. “I’m thrilled to see key partners like Delta deepen their roots in our incredible capital city and look forward to sharing more soon.”

Delta, which accounts for about 70% of Salt Lake City’s outbound flights, has big plans for the new airport. It is pursuing a training facility on airport property, giving the carrier a place other than its Atlanta home to train pilots and crew members.

A timeline for that project has not been released, but with the expansion, Delta has dubbed its Salt Lake City hub the “Atlanta of the West.”

A pivotal piece of the airport’s growth

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ogden residents Sebastian and Kayden Jolley check out the world map as they wait for family to arrive at Salt Lake City International Airport, Friday, Dec. 23, 2022.

The extension of the B concourse’s eastern end was expected but is moving ahead of schedule due to demand for the additional gates.

The city intends to take on new debt to expand the concourse. The long-term commitment from Delta will give the airport the money it needs to pay for the $680 million project.

In 2021, airport leadership gave the project management team the go-ahead to do preliminary architectural and engineering work for the three-level, 300,000-square-foot-plus project.

It’s the final expansion option at the airport before the construction of an entirely new, third concourse. Completion of concourse B will put the airport’s total price tag at about $5.1 billion.

When both concourses are fully built, city records show, Delta is slated to occupy all of concourse A and more than a third of B. The first five gates of the concourse B expansion are expected to open in January 2026. The remaining gates are scheduled to debut a year later.

In May, five new gates are expected to come on line in concourse A. The remaining gates are due to open in November.

A central tunnel connecting the two concourses is slated to be available in late 2024, giving travelers relief from the arduous journey to the B gates that has served as a major source of criticism for the airport since its 2020 liftoff.

CorrectionJan. 6, 9:30 a.m.: This story has been corrected to update the number of new gates in concourse A set to open in May and the total price tag for the new airport.

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