New American Airlines now a reality; big challenges ahead

December 6 passed without fanfare, but the New American Airlines is a reality.

The first day of stock trading, under the symbol AAL, begins today. The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram–the hometown paper of the Ft. Worth-based AA–has this story, posted Saturday. The New York Times provides this analytical piece.

We know the US Airways management team reasonably well and we think they will be much better than the former American management. American hasn’t been the same since Bob Crandall retired in 1998. Crandall’s successor, Don Carty, had a lousy tenure. He originated the acquisition of Reno Air, a small airline headquartered in Reno (NV), for reasons that passed all understanding. In doing so, he created ill will with the AA pilots union (which, in fairness, wasn’t hard to do with this bunch of malcontents), creating all sorts of labor issues. Carty also acquired Trans World Airlines, another merger of mysterious motives that appeared more to do with market share than business sense. TWA’s only US hub by this time was St. Louis (MO), a mere 250 miles from AA’s massive Chicago O’Hare hub. TWA’s fare structure was low, competing as it was with fellow-hubber Southwest Airlines and able to attract traffic on price rather than quality.

We’ll never know whether the TWA merger would have been a success. The 9/11 terrorist attacks happened shortly after the acquisition, and by 2003, American was on the ropes. Carty negotiated steep concessions from the employee unions, but the deal unraveled when it was revealed that management simultaneously lined up for tens of millions of dollars in executive bonuses. Carty was forced out in the quid pro quo to complete the concession deal.

Carty’s successor, Gerard Arpey, gained respect from the employees. Over the next few years, more concessions were sought by Arpey as he strove to keep American from following all its peers into bankruptcy. But those bankruptcies allowed all the competitors to shave pension plans, cut wages and benefits and other costs while American remained burdened with higher costs across the board. In November 2011–10 years after 9/11–American finally succumbed and filed for Chapter 11. Arpey, who disagreed with the decision, resigned and was succeeded by Tom Horton.

We were never impressed with Horton, particularly with his view that he deserved $20m in the bankruptcy restructuring. He’s non-executive chairman of American but will leave the company soon. He provided this farewell message to employees.

Doug Parker, the CEO of US Airways and America West Airlines, who engineered the merger, is the new CEO of American. Parker and his team never got the respect we think they deserved for keeping US Airways alive, profitable and competitive with perhaps the weakest route system of the US legacy airlines.

Parker was an early proponent of adopting ancillary fees, a practice passengers really don’t like. But the industry had changed dramatically and free meals, free checked baggage and other stuff of history became just that for all the airlines: history. Today, most carriers make their profits from fees and not the tickets they sell.

Parker will have challenges to bring American back into the forefront of top tier airlines. Its reputation and employee morale have been battered. US Airways continues to rank near the bottom of passenger surveys. Employee group integration at US Airways from the merger with America West continues to be difficult; now add American to the mix.

AA and US will continue to fly under separate banners and certificates for some time, following the examples of United-Continental and Delta-Northwest. Integration of reservations systems, frequent flier programs and so on will undoubtedly present huge challenges. We fully anticipate passenger disruptions, also following the pattern of the other mega-mergers.

One of the things we expect to see is an employee contest for a new livery to replace the one adopted by Tom Horton. The tail logo is just awful, though the fuselage and stylized eagle are fine. When America West and US Airways merger, Parker held an employee contest and the winner is what’s painted on the US Airways planes today. It was a good was to involve employees. Then legacy paint jobs of the predecessor airlines were added to the fleet. We have no doubt this will happen at the New American. There are plenty of aviation geek ideas for an American livery. Some may be found here. From this link, you can click through to various other sites for some pretty creative ideas. We like several of the renderings at this website. The last two are what Horton should have adopted.

United’s new effort for airline passenger exerience comfort

United Airlines announced it is adopting a new seat in coach to improve the passenger experience.

Its press release is here.

UAL’s overview:

The new design includes:

  • Bold elements, such as multi-tonal leather seat covers, distinctive double-stitch patterns, sculpted contouring and a new United-branded tag
  • More ergonomic and supportive cushioning and additional seat-back storage space in United Economy Plus and United Economy
  • Technology that makes the seats more environmentally friendly by reducing seat weight and volume, contributing to less fuel burn

UAL Seat

We’re impressed.

American, US Airways respond to DOJ complaint

American Airlines and US Airways filed their responses to the DOJ lawsuit seeking to block the merger. The Dallas Morning News has this synopsis. The full, 50-page US Airways response is here.

There’s one element that particularly caught our eye, and that is market share. While DOJ points out that the New American, along with Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, would control some 80% of the available seat miles (a statistically correct figure), AA and US point out that in terms of domestic market share, Southwest Airlines, other LCCs plus Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines control 40% of all domestic passengers.

The Complaint’s focus on legacy airlines causes it to ignore the most meaningful competitive development in the airline industry since deregulation: the emergence of low cost carriers. Southwest, which in 1978 was an oddity limited to intrastate flying in Texas, is now the country’s largest domestic airline, carrying more passengers last year than any legacy carrier and more than US Airways and American combined. Other low cost carriers, including JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Virgin America, Sun Country, and Allegiant, are expanding at dramatic rates. These carriers, together with Southwest and regional competitors Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, now transport over 40% of all domestic passengers, and that share continues to grow. The demonstrable success of low cost carriers is a market driven response to consumer demand, but the Complaint inexplicably ignores their profound and permanent effect on industry competition.

In fact, Southwest has for many years carried more domestic passengers than any other airline–which begs the question, why didn’t DOJ block the Southwest-AirTran merger, which would only increase and consolidate this concentration?

The court should find for AA and US. This lawsuit is an embarrassment to DOJ for its political motivations, poor research and lack of understanding of the airline industry.

DOJ lawsuit vs AA-US reads like political document

Note: Some articles of interest:

  • Robert Crandall, former CEO of American, has this op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal (via Google News, so it should be accessible to Readers).
  • With the concentration of airline service that the US Department of Justice is so worried about, this article argues that foreign carriers should be allowed to operate US domestic service.

The lawsuit filed by the US Department of Justice against the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways reads more like a political document than a legal brief.

It’s clear the true intent is to force American and US Airways to divest slots at Washington Reagan National Airport. But in throwing in the proverbial kitchen sink, DOJ has made a mockery of its own case.

DOJ claims more than 1,200 city pairs will be adversely affected by the merger, with most of these being connections since the non-stop overlapping routes number only about a dozen.

But lots of the city pairs cited by DOJ are pretty obscure. Just to pick a dozen examples:

DOJ Examples of Connecting Routes
1 Austin, TX-Palm Springs, CA*
2 El Paso, TX-Kahului, HI
3 Columbus, OH-Fresno, CA
4 Des Moines, IA-Kahului, HI
5 Kapaa, HI-Tucson, AZ
6 Albuquerque, NM-Salinas, CA
7 Albuquerque, NM-Kapaa, HI
8 Charlotte, NC-Grand Junction, CO
9 Charlotte, NC-Durango, CO
10 El Paso, TX-Salinas, CA
11 Charlotte, NC-El Paso, TX
12 Harrisburg, PA-Fayetteville, AR

Some of the cities listed in the DOJ complaint (like Salinas, CA) aren’t truly served by airlines but rather by nearby airports (in this case, Monterey (CA). In another, Palm Springs (CA) is actually shown in the complaint being served by Riverside (CA). DOJ seems obsessed with city pairs involving Kapaa (HI) and El Paso (TX). Figuratively speaking, the three people per year flying between some of the city pairs cited by DOJ are really going to drive the market (queue the sarcasm).

DOJ appears to be really stretching in its attempt to make an anti-trust case.

DOJ’s lawsuit is replete with uninformed and ill-informed assertions that in aggregate make it clear the department simply doesn’t understand the dynamics of the airline industry.

Continue reading

DOJ “a day late and a dollar short” on merger concerns

The US Department of Justice’s lawsuit to block the merger of American Airlines and US Airways displays a concern that comes a little late.

As far back as the Reagan Administration, DOJ had ample opportunity to take aggressive action to block mergers. It’s concerned now about hub concentration? The Northwest Airlines-Republic Airways merger eliminated competition at the Detroit and Minneapolis hubs, where both carriers competed. The TWA-Ozark merger eliminated Ozark’s hub at St. Louis.

The new American would control 69% of the slots at Washington Reagan National Airport, and this is a concern? Consider:

  • American is the only hub carrier now at DFW Airport.
  • Southwest Airlines monopolizes Dallas LUV Field and nearly so at Houston Hobby Airport and Chicago Midway.
  • United Airlines dominates Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport and Newark Airport.
  • Delta Airlines controls Detroit, Minneapolis and Atlanta airports with a lop-sided market share.

And so on.

There are actually few directly overlapping routes and no competitive hubs between US Airways and American.

DOJ is concerned about job losses? Even the unions support this merger.

DOJ is concerned about the effect on consumers? Welcome to the club. All the previous mergers mentioned above were detrimental to consumers, but these cleared DOJ.

If United-Continental and Delta-Northwest were OK, this merger is, too.

United launches new winglet type from Aviation Partners Boeing

United Airlines and Aviation Partners Boeing launched a new winglet, the Scimitar. It looks similar to the feathered winglet Boeing designed for the 737 MAX, but closer inspection shows distinct differences.

Here is the press release.

Odds and Ends: Boeing ponders 787 rate hike; A350 fly-by at PAS?; EMB wins order for E-Jet

787 Rate Hike: Boeing CEO Jim McNerney acknowledged the company is considering a production rate hike for the 787. Readers here know we’ve been saying for months this is necessary for the 787-10 and to open up delivery slots for customers for the other sub-types.

A350 fly-by at PAS? Will the Airbus A350 make an appearance at the Paris Air Show after all? Is the Pope Catholic? Speculation is rampant that it will happen.

Embraer wins order for E-Jet: Embraer picked up an order for 40 E-175s from SkyWest Airlines, for operation on behalf of United Airlines.

United returns 787 to service today; WSJ points to other issues

United Airlines is the latest carrier to return the Boeing 787 to service today, on a route from Houston to Chicago. UAL CEO Jeff Smisek is joined by Boeing CEO Jim McNerney on the flight.

Meantime, the Wall Street Journal rained on the parade a bit with an article detailing other issues facing the 787. (Via Google News, but subscription may be required.)

Japan Air Lines, ANA and LAN expect to have the airplane back in service in June, according to reports.

Deliveries of new 787s resumed this month. All this will soon return momentum to Boeing, with formal launch of the 787-10 now anticipated by observes to likely come at the Paris Air Show. Launch will come with orders–widely believed to be from British Airways, Singapore Airlines and Air Lease Corp, and possibly others. If this happens, these will go a long way to restoring the brand damage caused by the ground of nearly 3 1/2 months.

Implications include a boost in the production rate of the 787 to as much as 14 a month. Although this may or may not be announced concurrent with the 787-10 launch, the boost is, in our view, a must. While Boeing expects some 787-9 customers to swap to the 10, reality demands that production increase beyond the 10/mo that will be achieved by the end of this year.

Boeing needs new capacity for the 10 and to open slots for customers who want the 8 and the 9. The line is essentially sold out to 2019-2020 as it is.

EIS for the 10 is planned for 2018, giving the supply chain plenty of time to ramp up.

Fourteen a month–seven in Everett and seven in Charleston–is an unprecedented rate for a wide-body airplane. Airbus is producing the A330 at 10-11 a month and plans to push out the A350 at 10/mo, though at one time there had been talk of a target of 13. The company is already considering a second production line to accommodate demand for the A350-1000. Like the 787, the A350 is essentially sold out to 2019/2020.

Odds and Ends: Change fees; Two ex-NTSB members rap Boeing, FAA, current NTSB

About those change fees: Last week we reported from the US Airways Media Day and among the topics was that of change fees. US Airways matched United Airlines to charge $200 if you change your ticket. Here’s an article about how to deal with these fees.

Here’s another article about change fees, and how they’ve soared in recent times. If you think fees in the US are bad, look at the table and note in particular Ryanair’s fees–this carrier is notorious for charge for everything, and at steep prices, something subject to this funny video:

Why are fees becoming so prevalent? Because this is where airlines are largely making their profits. US Airways said last week it expects to earn $600m from fees this year. This is more than its entire profit from 2012. This means airline operations lose money and profits come from the fees.

Also on US Airways: we also reported last week about some outstanding labor issues between the IAM at US Air and the TWU and American Airlines. An agreement over the weekend was reached about merging these two workforces under one union banner, according to Terry Maxon at the Dallas Morning News.

Ex-Members Rap FAA, NTSB: We bet they won’t be invited to a reunion. James Hall and John Goglia, former members of the National Transportation Safety Board, had harsh words to say about the FAA, Boeing and the NTSB over the certification of the Boeing 787 and the subsequent fix. Hall said the FAA needed to recertify the airplane, not just the battery.

Ethiopian Airlines resumed service with the 787 over the weekend, while Japan’s ANA engaged in a proving flight. This Wall Street Journal article (via Google News, so everyone should be able to read it) references additional measures required by Japan.

Odds and Ends: Boeing earnings call; US Airways Media; 787 update Day

There’s a lot of news happening today and tomorrow.

NTSB Hearing: The NTSB hearing on the Japan Air Lines Boeing 787 battery fire is today and tomorrow. This can be followed live (and later archived) here.

Boeing Earnings Call: This is Wednesday, April 24. This can be followed here. Expect a fair amount of discussion about the impact of the 787 battery issues on earnings. Ordinarily we’d have our usual live running coverage but instead we will be at the…

US Airways Media Day: This airline has an annual media day and it was scheduled for today a long time ago. We’ve been a regular at this, and due to the pending American Airlines merger, apparently there is going to be big press demand: they had to move the venue from headquarters to a hotel location in Scottsdale. We’ll have several updates throughout the day.

787 Update: LOT Polish Airlines expects to return its two 787s to service in June; Ethiopian this month; the Japanese airlines could return the airplane to service this month but ANA plans up to 200 test flights first, so this will slip to May and perhaps June. It’s unclear when Japan Air Lines plans a return-to-service (RTS). Qatar Airways wants to RTS this month. United Air Lines appears planning next month.