CHICAGO

TheStreet

) -- Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar became the first prominent aviation leader to speak out against the proposed merger between

Continental

(CAL) - Get Report

and

United

( UAUA), saying approval would stifle competition.

Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, also opposed the 2008 merger between

Delta

(DAL) - Get Report

and

Northwest

, which was nonetheless approved in the closing days of the Bush administration.

"I think there is a different spirit in the current justice department, compared to the Bush administration justice department," Oberstar said Thursday, on a conference call with reporters. "I expect this administration to be more serious and to use (its) authority."

Oberstar noted that last year, the Justice Department opposed Continental's request to join with United and seven international airlines in an alliance with global antitrust immunity. However, the arrangement was approved by the Transportation Apartment, which had the final say. This time, Oberstar said, "I'm hoping and expecting they will pick up on their findings and carry those farther."

"The Justice Department needs to look at the overlapping routes and evaluate the economic consequences of the loss of competition," he said, noting that he has written a letter to the department expressing his opposition.

Internationally, Continental and United have no overlap; domestically, they have minimal overlap. The two are the sole providers of airline service on a handful of routes including Denver-Cleveland, Denver-Newark, Newark-San Francisco and Houston-San Francisco.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.

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