Better for Augusta?

It remains to be seen whether the proposed Delta-Northwest merger makes financial or regulatory sense. Wall Street and Washington will have to figure that out.

But if investors and regulators think it makes sense for the companies and consumers, it would seem to be a great deal for Georgia.

When Delta was the subject of a hostile takeover bid by US Airways in late 2006, it could've been horrible for Georgia and Augusta. Delta's headquarters, and its jobs, could've been moved from Atlanta -- and there would have been no competition for flights to Augusta, since those are precisely the two airlines servicing Bush Field.

This proposal is much, much different.

For one thing, the combined airline would still be called Delta, would still be headquartered in Atlanta, and would be headed up by Delta executives.

For another thing, there would still be two airlines flying in and out of Augusta, keeping the kind of competition intact that leads to lower fares and greater choices.

In general, we are against mega-mergers. They do tend to stifle competition, and -- despite promises of efficiencies and consolidation and blah, blah, blah -- they often don't lead to lower prices for consumers.

So, in a perfect world, we'd likely be against this merger.

But in an imperfect world such as this, the fish either eat or get eaten. Last time, Delta was going to be eaten. This time around, Delta is the big fish.

Moreover, if Delta and Northwest merge, not only would Augusta service likely not be cut back, it might be enhanced -- if, for instance, they add flights to Northwest service areas such as Minneapolis or Detroit.

With fuel costs skyrocketing and U.S. airlines facing government-supported competition overseas, consolidation and elimination of duplicate flights is probably a given. It may just be a matter of whose terms the consolidations are on.

Federal regulators will ultimately decide if this merger is good for consumers. Wall Street will have its say -- as will the pilots of both companies. A lot can happen. As far as variables go, the sky's the limit.

But as it stands today, it looks as if Augusta and Georgia could actually come out ahead.

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