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Hell Yes, Going It Alone Remains an Option

In Washington, D.C., Congressman Oberstar says “hell nobefore hearings are held on significant issues important to the US airline industry. In Atlanta, Delta Air Lines is reminding us that there is some probability that “no” to a deal just might be the right answer at this time after the company and its board carefully review possible merger combinations.

Russell Grantham, in this morning’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution offers a clear line of sight to the issues Delta views as critical tenets of any combination. Delta’s #2 executive, Ed Bastian, is quoted in the story as saying that “any merger must meet three major goals. He said Delta won't agree to a deal unless the proposed merger: creates a global network that "fills holes" in Delta's operations; avoids burdening the combined airlines with excessive debt; and treats employees fairly and assures them of job and seniority protections”.

We seem to be hung up on the political clock. Yes it is ticking. But with vigilant focus on satisfying certain labor issues, is the time on the clock of critical importance? Personally, I would rather see the industry address those issues it knows will be important to all stakeholders before the spotlight is turned on. It seems to me that by learning from past mistakes, the political clock may be less important. And can something really be completed in 10 months?

The airline industry is not the only industry that is carefully studying and proposing possible acquisitions. Yesterday Microsoft said Yahoo - and not hell no - to a possibility of diversifying its business and in turn creating a stronger competitor to Google. Last time I checked, the internet was a global network business just like the airline industry. And we are proud of the iconish names that carry the US flag in the technology space. But I digress……

More to come.


01-02-08: Manufacturing Sector Disappoints + $100 Oil = Continued Airline Stock Carnage

Just thought I would memorialize a few facts from the first trading day of 2008. Crude oil trades at over $100 per barrel for the first time. [Crude oil actually traded at less than $11 per barrel in December of 1998.] Gold trades at a 27 year high. 1 Euro can buy 1 US Dollar and 47 cents. A report issued by the Institute of Supply Management suggested a contraction in the manufacturing sector which is an important barometer of US economic activity.

Airline stocks continued their downward drift in the face of more and more signs pointing to a weakening US economy. Most experts I heard interviewed today suggested that they see little in the way of oil price relief unless there is a significant global economic slowdown.

Now some stock facts on select US airlines…….

Of the 9 US publicly traded US stocks I consider significant, 8 set new 52-week lows: American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, US Airways, Southwest, jetBlue and AirTran.

United closed 37 cents above its 52-week low.

For these stocks setting new 52-week lows; American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, US Airways and Southwest all traded at least 3 times their average daily volume.

jetBlue’s market capitalization closed the day at less than $1 billion. The carrier’s stock still trades at 61 times its forward earnings suggesting there still may be more stock price damage ahead.

Of the 9 airline equities analyzed, the three largest in terms of market capitalization are: Southwest, $8.7 billion; United and Delta, $3.7 billion each.

Southwest trades at 20 times its forward earnings and United trades at 14.5 times. American, Continental and US Airways all trade at, or below, 7.5 times forward earnings.

The market capitalization of the 6 US network carriers combined ($17.3 billion) is the equivalent of 17.5 cents per dollar of revenue ($98.9 billion).

The LCC carriers: Southwest, jetBlue and AirTran would cost considerably more as their combined market capitalization ($10.3 billion) is the equivalent of 70.9 cents per dollar of revenue ($14.5 billion). Southwest comprises nearly 85 percent of the three carrier's market capitalization. Southwest’s market capitalization is the equivalent of 90 cents per dollar of its revenue.


Ringing Out the Old, Ringing In the New.  NOT

It is the last day of 2007, and as I prepare to write my final blog post for the year, I want to say something positive about where I see the industry – particularly the US industry. There are plenty of encouraging things happening in Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East with carriers like LAN, Air France/KLM/Alitalia, Lufthansa/Swiss, Singapore, Cathay and the Chinese airlines. The global marketplace is where it is happening

In the US, however, we seem stuck with the old and little hope for new – with only a few exceptions.

While CEOs are speaking to the structural deficiencies plaguing the US airline industry, there is little “public” effort being exerted to address those deficiencies. I am encouraged at what seems to be the beginnings of US carriers like United and American, who have been sitting on the sidelines for too long, again investing in their product. But my excitement is muted by the endless news accounts of poor customer service and flight delays that work only to chase travelers away.

There should be a connection between product and customer and revenue – right? Gary Kelly at Southwest sure seems to be focused on product; the one word that never leaves the LUV vernacular is “customer.” Many are questioning Southwest’s recent actions to expand its customer base. Not me. This is a great story unfolding– the low cost leader and low fare provider now openly discussing its need to change. This means a need to find new revenue and a need to make its product attractive to a wider range of customers. And they are actually doing something about it.

I encourage readers here to visit the Dallas Morning News’ blog click here and read Terry Maxon’s take on the top 10 aviation issues in 2007, and the Air Traveler’s Association’s Top 10 issues for 2008 click here. Finally, click here to read an interview with Herb Kelleher, Southwest Airline’s departing Chairman, in the Southwest Economy published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Kelleher’s comments on globalization are particularly interesting.

For another barometer of how the financial markets view the US airline industry, consider select carrier’s stock price performance over the course of this past year. As of December 28, 2007, US Airways, jetBlue and American share prices have dropped by more than 50 percent; Continental, AirTran and Alaska shares have all declined between 30-50 percent; and Frontier, Southwest and United shares have fallen between 20-30 percent.

In the six months after coming out of bankruptcy, Northwest shares are down 36 percent, while Delta’s shares fell 26 percent.

Suffice it to say that I’m joined by many other industry watchers in failing to find many positives in the US airline industry space. Let’s hope that in 2008, the US industry makes some positive steps toward reclaiming a leadership role in this critical sector.

2007: Looking Back.

1. Crowded Skies: This was the (another) year of air traffic congestion and its troubling impact on airlines. Authorities have now enacted limits on air traffic in both New York and Chicago – an approach that can only be viewed as a Band-Aid solution to a much more serious problem. It’s time for Washington to get serious.

2. Consolidation: US Airways’ “hostile” play for Delta took talk of industry consolidation from a murmur to a roar. It was the right idea for the right reasons, only to again be thwarted by labor, the regulators and the legislators. At what point are the naysayers going to accept the fact that the current industry structure does not serve the best interests of the airlines, employees the transportation infrastructure or any stakeholder for that matter?

3. Fuel: The eye-popping price of fuel underscores the ongoing need for the industry to identify ways to cut fixed costs, despite the fact that most of the low-hanging fruit is already plucked. And that’s before we even begin to calculate the price tag of anticipated environmental mandates on an industry already groaning from the weight of taxes and fees.

4. Labor Voice: Lee Moak, Chairman of the Delta ALPA Master Executive Council, emerged as a new voice in the industry labor front with his nod to the need for structural change in the industry. Because he combined straight talk with a serious commitment to representing his pilot members when faced with an unwelcome advance to Delta from Pardus Capital, Mr. Moak demonstrated real leadership by suggesting that he will play a significant role in structuring any deal that impacts his constituents when his carrier is put in play.

5. Foreign Capital: Lufthansa’s investment in jetBlue appears pretty benign on the surface. But Lufthansa, with this investment, has put its money behind carriers housed in two of the most important airport markets in the world – jetBlue at JFK and bmi British Midland at LHR. At the end of the day, this business is nothing more than a real estate game connected by sexy things with wings. No real estate, no access. Ultimately, foreign capital in US carriers only ensures that the weak market structure surrounding the US industry remains intact. These investments are no different than the good money chasing bad business plans that allowed US carriers to fund their exits from bankruptcy.

6. Staffing Woes: The Northwest Airlines system breakdown that followed its emergence from bankruptcy was the fault of productivity changes that were too fast, too aggressive, and resulted in a staff shortage that wreaked havoc on its flight schedule. The only good news was the negotiation between ALPA and the company that provided incentives for flight crews as a way to man the planes. This may be one of brightest spots in the labor arena in 2007.

7. Capacity Chokehold: The sharp slowdown in capacity deployed by the low cost and regional sectors offers important perspective for regulators as consolidation talk continues. Too bad Congress remains convinced that every congressional district is entitled to air service, no matter whether the industry can fly all of these routes profitably.

8. Labor Leading with its Chin: The extraordinary opening proposal made by the Allied Pilots Association as it begins its Section 6 negotiations with American Airlines sought pay increases some estimate at more than 50 percent -- and that is before we even try to incorporate the headcount increases with the remainder of its initial demands. While the aggressive proposal underscores the deteriorating relationship between labor and management at the airline – and in the industry overall -- the question remains whether the APA’s gambit will be a bellwether for the industry or the first in a long line of mediation cases making their way to a Presidential Emergency Board.

9. Capital Connections: In an administration that has not had much to cheer, the US Department of Transportation has served the airline industry well under the leadership of Assistant Secretary’s, Andy Steinberg and Jeff Shane. Unfortunately, these two soldiers of change will be moving on this year at a time when their skill and expertise will be sorely needed.

10. Detroit’s Deal: The agreement forged between the United Auto Workers and the Big Three automakers click here, illustrates the many similarities between the auto and airline industries. Will we see these kind of talks at the airlines? No sign of it yet. Leaders please step forward.

11. Integration Frustration: That US Airways' East pilots believe a new, independent union will right the wrongs of an arbitrator’s decision and do better by pilots than ALPA, demonstrates the triumph of hope over experience. Experience shows us that there is no entitlement clause that applies in these situations. Under globablization, there will be fewer and fewer entitlements left in an increasingly competitive marketplace. But there is opportunity, and the US Airways' pilots should be working together to figure out how to make their airline stronger, and their members better off, rather than fight among themselves.

A Toast to the Customer

Some readers may interpret my views as unrealistic – that I’m looking for some incarnation of Air Nirvana without any of the usual industry friction – but neither is true. I know that structural change will inevitably lead to friction. And some of that friction will come as part of the reality that the airline industry will look very different in a few years, with some carriers no longer in the picture.

My real fear is not the loss of a carrier or carriers – it is the complete loss of customer confidence in an industry that relies on its reputation. Both labor and management should stop pointing fingers regarding customer issues and instead focus energy there first.

Richard Branson Gets the Final Word Here in 2007

As Virgin Atlantic faces a potential job action by its flight attendants, Richard Branson, the carrier’s flamboyant leader writes the following letter to his employees click here. The closing paragraphs state very clearly where I think we are headed and the words that will need to be spoken.

There comes a time in any negotiation when a good management team has to draw a line in the sand and I agree with them that time has come. To go further would result in unacceptable risks and would set a dangerous precedent to the company as a whole. It would be irresponsible of our management and they, rightly, are not going to take that risk.

For some of you more pay than Virgin Atlantic can afford may be critical to your lifestyle and if that is the case you should consider working elsewhere. For the vast majority of you, the pay rise you were offered was the best in the industry this year, which is why the union strongly recommended it. I’d urge you not to put at risk our ability to solve this dispute by messing up our customers’ travel plans.

We all want to resolve this situation and give the best pay increase that the business can afford. The best way to achieve this is by keeping all of our planes flying and delivering what we do best - making sure that all of our passengers leave with a smile”.

Thank you for making Swelblog.com a read for you. Much more to come as the final chapters are a long way from written.


Maybe the Allied Pilots Association Is Really Onto Something

As I have written often and recently, the competitive position of the US legacy carriers in the global arena is a major concern to me. My thoughts on this topic are largely contained in a talk I gave at the ACI-NA International Aviation Issues Seminar in late November click here.

With the combined market capitalizations of the Big 3 EU legacy carriers (Air France/KLM, Lufthansa and British Airways) exceeding the market capitalizations of the Big 6 US legacy carriers (American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and US Airways) combined by nearly 33%, something clearly needs to change. And if Air France/KLM is successful in integrating troubled Alitalia into its fold, then the margin will become even more embarrassing for airlines carrying the US flag.

What a Cool Job

If there is a job I want in the airline space today, it would be the UPS whiteboard guy click here. Why? Because the UPS model, and the way they talk about it in their whiteboard campaign, demonstrates the futility of US carriers trying to operate successfully under collective bargaining provisions that are at least 35 years old. The UPS guy is not encumbered by existing lines or parameters as he connects UPS’s dots on the map. More importantly, the company actually connects the product to what customers want and demand –a novel concept! If there is a time to throw the past away (erase) and look to the future (redraw), it is now.

So maybe, just maybe, the Allied Pilots Association is on to something in its latest proposal to American Airlines. While I would never suggest that the APA “one liner” scope provision click here makes sense for the AA network as we know it today, anything that simplifies the ability of US airlines to implement commercial, tactical and strategic decisions to react to a changing domestic and global landscape makes very good sense to me. More importantly, anything that gets the mainline growing again is the best solution to some of the labor-related hostilities in the industry today.

Whiteboard Analysis – Regional and Codeshare Flying

What I like about the simplicity of the APA proposal is that it provides a starting point to begin serious negotiations – something the American Airlines negotiations are sorely lacking.

Given that scope defines who can do what flying necessary to operate the network, AA would get to go to the “whiteboard” and lay out for the APA the cost for feeder flying relative to the revenue generated by that flying, as well as the traffic and revenue contributions to its mainline domestic and international routes. As part of AA’s whiteboard exercise, they also get to demonstrate the value of revenue and traffic contribution the international codesharing partners now contribute.

If APA puts forward a scope proposal that reserves all flying for its member pilots and that makes economic sense, then there would be no need to scale back the current size of the network – all other things being equal. On the other hand, if APA is not willing to agree to terms – pay rates and work rules – that, when the interdependencies of all contractual issues are understood and at least match what AA pays today for this business, then the company would need to make some decisions about how much to shrink the current network.

Whiteboard Analysis – Mainline Flying

Let’s take it further.

The cost of the APA flying will ultimately determine the size of the network for regional and codeshare flying. The next calculation is the cost of operating the existing, or remaining, mainline network. If the network can sustain the 50+ percent increase in rates and all other items included in the union’s current proposal, then the APA will have realized its goal of restoring lost earning power to their members and establishing the pattern for the rest of the industry to follow.

Based on the cost of operating the mainline network under the APA proposal, there are two paths to explore on the decision tree: 1) if the remaining network cannot incorporate the cost of the entire APA proposal, then determine what portions can be operated profitably and the remaining network would need to be dismantled; or 2) determine how much increase in pilot cost the network could absorb and then ask the APA to adjust its proposal downward.

Whiteboard Analysis – What Is the Right Formula for US Legacy and LCCs?

This conversation is underway not only in union halls, but also on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms. It is a topic on the Dallas Morning News’ airline blog click here. While Mr. Maxon sees the APA proposal is a bombshell, I see it as a starting point for negotiation that appears to be stuck. Historically, scope language is among the last issues negotiated in pilot contracts. Let’s switch it up this time and figure out exactly what unions want their respective companies to be - global leaders or niche players?

We talk a lot here about CEOs that are genuinely concerned about value creation versus value destruction – Glenn Tilton at UAL, Doug Parker at US Airways and Richard Anderson at Delta. But another CEO has been hard at work totally rethinking his business as well: Gary Kelly at Southwest. This past week, Kelly spoke directly to the “perils” facing the industry click here. Kelly and his pilots are also engaged in a discussion of scope language as their business is about to get more complicated with proposals for international flying and code shares as a way to boost revenue production.

With little to no clear investment thesis in the core business of airlines, UAL this week declared a special dividend to its shareholders click here, much to the chagrin of its employees and a very passionate Holly Hegeman who writes about the action in her blog, Planebuzz click here. If nothing else, Tilton and UAL are consistent in their focus on the shareholder – often the most ignored of stakeholders in the airline industry. While I can see the employee view, at-risk compensation is a way around this angst.

So unless the business of the business starts to have a clearer line of sight to the customer – meaning delivering a product that the customer is willing to pay more for – then the payment of special dividends, the selling of wholly owned subsidiaries, consolidation and/or a slow liquidation of US flag airlines will continue. You know, money talks and #$*&! walks.

Concluding Thoughts

I really think the APA is on to something with its scope proposal. Let’s talk about scope first among the tough questions that will determine the future shape of the US airlines. Once that question is answered we can move on to a meaningful discussion about how to better compensate a workforce because the current seniority-based, hourly rate system simply is not effective in the modern market.

Structured properly, this round of negotiations may just lead to finding the right network architecture to make the US carriers global leaders again. Or not. But doing business circa 1970 is not going to get it done. So let’s remove the clutter and the underbrush and start with a clean whiteboard. Maybe even do what the European carriers do and create business units that carry cost structures to match the sub markets they serve because they recognize that a one size fits all just does not work. And this approach could indeed be done with pilots on the APA list – just ask Northwest and US Airways.

Let’s stop saying it just cannot happen. It can.


Passive Consolidation Talk Turns Active: Delta and United?

As I wrote in "I Hear the Train a "C"omin' " below, I think we can say I see the train and it's a comin'.

With the recent speculation about what the catalysts might in triggering a consolidation of the industry, clearly high oil prices are. Jeff Bailey of the New York Times writes in the past hour about a letter sent to each United and Delta from Pardus Capital Management proposing a stock for stock swap combining the two carriers click here. The AP reports that the two carriers have been in discussions click here. Shares in each United and Delta are up on the news.

Note: William Swelbar is a shareholder in United Airlines.


Wondering Thoughts From 5 Time Zones Away

The underpinning of this blog is that change in the US airline industry is underway -- whether some like it or not. Over the past week there were some stories that grabbed my eye and are listed in order of importance from my point of view. There were many stories that warranted discussion like the orders coming from the Dubai Air Show, another meeting between US Airways CEO Doug Parker and Senator Arlen Specter, oil prices testing $100 per barrel, airline stocks getting beaten down, schedules at JFK, United suggesting it might, and could, put up to 100 airplanes on the ground given the changing economics and the list goes on that further underscore change.

Speaking of the Dubai Air Show and the aircraft orders being placed there – doesn’t it bother US readers that the orders are not from US carriers but rather from previously obscure points on the map that have every plan to change the shape of global aviation? It sure does me. Is the US being relegated to a supporting role in tomorrow’s global aviation market? I sure hope not.

These Are Not “Competitively Virgin” Markets

Holly Hegeman in Planebuzz ran a great piece last week where she summarized a research note from Gary Chase at Lehman Brothers click here. In his note, Gary finds that Virgin America is pulling down capacity in its transcon markets without any noticeable shift of that capacity to other markets.

The markets where the low cost sector has chosen to operate have generally been the densest US domestic markets. You would have thought that Virgin would have learned something from jetBlue and others that the competitive profile of the network carriers is vastly different today than just 4 years ago. The days where the legacy carriers that are most dependent on transcon revenue, whether from nonstop or connecting flights, are going to stand idly by and see further market share and revenue degradation take place are over.

In a Spring 2003 MIT forum, I did a piece on the Low Cost Carriers, subtitled “Thou Shalt Not Inherit the Earth” click here. LCC growth was the talk of the time. This piece was shared with mainstream press but largely ignored. Now it is mainstream, and even “futurist” by some, to talk about the revenue generating difficulties faced by the LCC sector. Whereas, Virgin America is well capitalized and arguably has a brand, it further underscores the point that the opportunities are limited for this sector to grow at previous rates.

We talk about consolidation with respect to the legacy sector of the industry when in reality the more interesting plays may be in the LCC sector – a sector that is highly dependent on revenue in the largest US markets. A capacity shift here, a capacity pulldown there and ………

Say It Ain’t So Joe

AirTran Chairman, Joe Leonard, sells his remaining stock holdings a week after stepping down as CEO click here. As for AirTran, it is unfortunate that their bid for Midwest fell apart. This company has performed admirably, but remains badly in need of diversification of its route portfolio and Milwaukee, along with Minneapolis, remain two of the largest markets without meaningful LCC presence.

While Northwest suggests it is only passive in its partnership with TPG, you have to look at that partnership and wonder what TPG sees other than to know an exit strategy is there for them at any time. Midwest’s recent performance does not warrant that kind of interest from a TPG and its business plan is circa 1999.

Do these changes at AirTran signal something?

This Is Not Bill Nyrop’s Airline: At Least Today?

Following a wrenching summer of customer and labor strife after emerging from bankruptcy, the external messaging we hear from Northwest is quite different from what we have ever heard in Minneapolis? In an article by Liz Fedor in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: NWA Puts An Emphasis on Service click here highlights comments from the Board’s new Chairman, Roy Bostock, citing his desire “to create a better environment for Northwest's employees and customers and develop more sophisticated techniques for measuring customer experiences”.

Is this real or will Northwest realize the same fate that is playing out in Ft. Worth between labor and management after an attempt to find a new way? Given the contentious nature of the labor-management relationship that has historically been the norm at Northwest, this would at least appear to be a good start. It is always easier to begin these programs when amendable dates are years away. However, with Northwest in the center of consolidation talk (click here and click here) we will be watchers of the airline’s progress on service and employee relations.

Maybe This Time, “Delta” Really Does Mean Change

In an AP story covering Delta’s President and Chief Financial Officer, Ed Bastian called consolidation a “front burner” issue for the carrier click here. And as the company discusses consolidation, its message to all stakeholders has been consistent. But while the company suggested it would like to answer the consolidation question before it makes any decisions regarding spin offs, it made an agreement last week that would grow its internal maintenance operation click here.

This on top of its transatlantic deal with Air France and KLM and a decision pending on whether to sell Comair suggest that this company is doing anything but managing its enterprise for the future. I could not have been more wrong on my views of this company. I have spoken publicly about an airline with presence everywhere, pricing power nowhere and generally lacking a plan and direction. We will not know for sometime whether or not their international strategy is the right one, but the results since emerging are impressive.

Business Week made a case that the logical acquisition target for Delta should be Northwest click here. This story is a good read, not so much for the combination case it makes but more to the references made about an industry badly in need of continued restructuring ….

American and the TWU: Talk of gAAin v. pAAin

Trebor Banstetter of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram did a nice summary of the TWU’s remarks as it presented its Section 6 opener to the company last week click here. If there is a union at AA with a substantial opportunity, and a competitive platform, to discuss “gain sharing” with the company it is the TWU. But I would argue it is not the entire TWU membership that is in the same position. It is the mechanics, the skilled workforce, that have this substantial subject matter to discuss.

One does not have to read too many articles to realize that American has chosen to invest in its maintenance organization – obviously a profit center that warrants the use of internal capital to fund an operation that has been successful in bringing in new work – and new revenue. The TWU suggests that they would like to return to 2003 levels of pay and work rules (not likely given the industry’s profit position). The company seems open to linking earnings to performance and productivity goals click here (an opportunity to make at-risk compensation a reality).

Whereas the AP story suggests a union “less friendly” – that may be true. But at least on its face, there is an understanding that preventing an environment that has caused significant pain for their co-workers at other carriers that filed for bankruptcy is a better path to follow. My hope is that the TWU and AA find some inventive ways to proceed that can reward the skilled workforce that is making Tulsa a new revenue source.

I further hope that the TWU does not use the skilled workforce to cross-subsidize the other members it represents as the sub-labor markets are quite different. There are too many lessons to be learned from the IAM on this subject ….


Circular Logic: US Airways and the Economics of Entitlement

Since US Airways’ failure to convince the US Congress, employees and the Delta Unsecured Creditors Committee that their deal provided many stakeholders with a long-term blueprint for success, issues faced by the US Airways’ management team continue to get more and more parochial. The recent news announcing the continued downsizing of Pittsburgh has elicited responses from Congressmen that this writer finds baffling. And the move by unhappy former US Airways’ East pilots - caused by an arbitrator’s ruling regarding the seniority integration with the former America West pilots - to consider an alternative union to the Air Line Pilots Association is troubling.

The Pulldown of Pittsburgh – A Long History of Weak Hub Economics

To start, let me reiterate my views on the market: there are too many network legacy carriers; too many low cost carriers; too many regional carriers as a result of having too many network legacy carriers; and there are too many hubs which keep too many network legacy carriers and regional carriers operating.

Defining Entitlement Economics: all are conferred a lifelong right to employment and/or abundant service despite the fact that the economics of the US airline industry, particularly its domestic operations, have changed significantly since the early 1990’s.

Remember the early 1990’s: It was during this time that the industry emerged from a recession that was triggered by the Gulf War. American exited Nashville and Raleigh-Durham. Continental was emerging from Bankruptcy #? and exited Denver. Delta’s presence in the Western US, purchased from Western Airlines, was being pulled down. Other carrier’s were also reducing west coast capacity as the market was being impacted by the growth of Southwest and question marks about how successful United would be following its ESOP agreement reached in 1994. And I am confident that I have missed other significant events during this period. What I do sense, is that we are about to embark on a similar period.

The period also marked the beginning of the end for US Airways as accidents, increased competition and the hangover of management decisions to “give away the store” in collective bargaining agreements to all employees from each of the companies it acquired during the late 1980’s were being fully realized. It was at this time, that the management team was changed significantly to see just how many tricks could be pulled out of the hat of an airline with a bloated cost structure and a revenue base under attack from all directions.

Last week there were two articles that caught my eye. The first story, by Dan Fitzpatrick of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette click here defines the unfortunate position Doug Parker, US Airways’ CEO, finds himself in as his management decisions are being challenged by an uninformed Senator Arlen Specter. An enlightened David Grossman of the USA Today click here does a wonderful job of describing the declining economics of the Pittsburgh hub while at the same time capturing the consumer friendliness of the facility. The facts outlined by Mr. Grossman were intact before US Airways’ merger with America West and should have been a signal of things to come for each the employees, customers and city fathers in Pittsburgh along with the Pennsylvania congressional delegation.

So Senator Specter:

- When you say you might not help US Airways with political issues in Washington DC - that is truly unfortunate. I thought you represented all of Pennsylvania and not just Pittsburgh. I thought that the Senate was interested in the success of companies and industries, particularly those that are inextricably linked to the health of the US economy and assuring that US industry can be as competitive as it can be in the global economy.

- US Airways has reciprocated, and has shown the Pittsburgh area consideration in return for Congress’ support in building a new airport. Quite honestly, the reciprocation has come in spades as Pittsburgh has been among the most overserved cities in the US when considering the fact that only 20% of the airport’s traffic was local Pittsburgh traffic (pointed out in Mr. Grossman’s article). Simply stated, this is just bad economics for an airline hub and all Mr. Parker is doing is making a prudent management decision that should contribute to his company’s financial health.

- Finally, your decision to fly Southwest is certainly yours and I agree that they are a very good competitor in the markets they serve. Government policy in the US aviation market has led to significant market fragmentation and as a result the consumer has benefited from lower ticket prices. But I urge you to look in the mirror and ask yourself who is serving Allentown, Harrisburg, Wilkes Barre-Scranton and Erie. It sure is not the low cost carriers that have been the darlings of Capitol Hill. It is the network legacy carriers that invest in the right sized airplanes to serve those markets when the low cost sector tries to lure those travelers to the big markets they only serve.

So US Airways East Pilots:

- When you say you are unhappy with the Air Line Pilots Association over an arbitrator’s decision and you want to leave ALPA - for the historical success of non-national unions? - be careful for what you ask for. How do you really think things will be better for you and your followers under a new union with little clout?

- It is time to simply recognize that the merger deal with America West was the most important component of the Plan of Reorganization that permitted you and the remaining work force to emerge from bankruptcy #2. Your problems began a long time ago and are not the result of this agreement. Without it, my guess is the US Airways logo (whichever one it is) rests somewhere with Pan Am, Eastern, and TWA.

So Senator Specter, you are not entitled to service in this economic environment just because you have had it in the past; and US Airways’ employees are not entitled to employment. What is troubling to this writer is to have Senators not looking around their own state and recognizing that it is the network legacy carriers that are serving “your” cities of all sizes – not just the largest markets despite the difficult economics facing the industry. If you think that the low cost carriers are the answer to your service dilemmas, then keep making statements about not wanting to help a carrier that has invested, and generated, billions in “your” economy when they visit your office in Washington DC. If you think about it carefully, your logic is circular.

To the US Airways’ pilots, your circular logic is more like the virtuous circle of failure that began long ago. You finally have a CEO that is committed to the operation, committed to finding success comprised of a network with limited short term upside and committed to avoiding a walk down the plank that promises no return. But if the world begins to change along the lines suggested by the last two posts in this blog, then it will be nothing different than the parochial interests that stood in the way of commercial opportunities at the “Old US Airways”.


“I hear the train a "C"omin'”

As earnings season kicks off for the third quarter, Delta announces great results click here and its CEO talks about consolidation click here This, is what the major newswires and bloggers picked up -- not that Delta’s earnings exceeded the Street’s expectations. The exception to these stories is Terry Maxon of the Dallas Morning News writing in his blog about the cleansing of bankruptcy which puts a different, but fair, perspective on the company’s performance click here.

One – no the best question of the day -- came from a significant trader in the airline debt world was: Will the news of Delta being part of consolidation considerations be bad for Delta CEO Richard Anderson? My immediate response was no, Anderson’s public comments have never shut the door on anything other than to make Delta the best it can be in his view and his board’s view.

So now that earnings season is underway, I just wonder how many times the “C” word will be used? We know that UAL has painted a target on its back but will others discuss the “C” word in their comments to the analysts? This, on top of an expected Delta announcement with alliance partners Air France and KLM click here, and today’s announcement click here, makes clear that the management team in Atlanta is not sitting still as it undertakes its transatlantic strategy.

Lots has been written about “unlocking value” by spinning off subsidiaries that are perceived by the market as to not being reflected in the current equity prices of US carriers. $86 oil points to a potentially mean and long cold winter for this industry. Therefore, expect the discussion of the “C” word to be included in this quarter's earnings’ overview. Moreover-- and this is true for each management and labor --remember tomorrow for this industry is about “capital creation” and not “capital recycling” or as some of my smart friends might say “capital destruction”. Or die.

The unfortunate visionary that is being left out of today’s (10/16/07) talk of consolidation is the CEO of US Airways, Doug Parker – but the earnings announcement is days away. He gave us a blueprint of how consolidation is good for the industry and individual companies in his bid for Delta. He openly talked – as to this writer’s take – on the benefits of reducing fixed costs while still maintaining access to the US air transportation system for air travel consumers in markets large and small. [I sure hope the US government reads and thinks about this statement]

What is unfortunate for Mr. Parker click here is the parochial interest of labor in the “C” word discussion. Certainly there is more to come on the US Airways situation in this blog -- but to stand in the way of market development for labor is a major mistake. It is global, it is real, it is now. So if labor thinks they are sitting in Folsom Prison and hoping that they’d moved it on a little farther down the line—stand ready.

“It's rolling round the bend"