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Airlines to cooperate with DOJ probe

The group of major airlines currently building an online travel service intend to cooperate with federal regulators now investigating the venture.

The group of major airline companies currently building an online travel service said today they would cooperate with federal regulators now investigating the venture.

The Justice Department (DOJ) has launched a probe into whether the five companies involved in the project have established proper safeguards to ensure the site does not violate federal antitrust laws, according to reports.

A DOJ spokeswoman today confirmed that that an investigation was ongoing but declined to give any further details.

In a joint statement, the consortium--Continental Airlines, UAL's United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines and AMR's American Airlines--said they are confident that the site, dubbed T2, meets all antitrust requirements, saying it will benefit consumers by offering them an abundance of travel information and more choices.

The DOJ probe follows a formal request in February by U.S. travel agents asking the government to review the Internet travel service, saying it would violate antitrust laws.

Traditional travel agents have been squeezed as airlines slash commissions, aggressively sell tickets through their corporate Web sites and partner with existing online travel sites.

The airlines' site, which is scheduled to be running by the middle of the year, will allow customers to book flight tickets, hotel rooms, car rentals and tours. It will compete with similar services such as Expedia and and be independently managed and operated, the companies said.

In a complaint filed with the DOJ in February, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) charged that the service would use its members less and would lead to price fixing.

Earlier this week, the ASTA amended its complaint regarding T2, to include another new joint Web site launched this month by 11 European airline companies, which would also distribute airline tickets.

The DOJ investigation into the airline Web site comes as the Federal Trade Commission looks into a new online commerce company, called Covisint, launched by major U.S. automakers to create a single automotive parts exchange for the companies' thousands of suppliers and dealers. Nissan and Renault joined the venture in April. Yesterday, Toyota said it also plans to join the venture.