Correction to This Article
A Nov. 16 Business article about US Airways┬┐ bid to buy Delta Air Lines misspelled the name of Bill Baer, an antitrust lawyer.

US Airways Bids To Acquire Delta And No. 1 Rank

By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 16, 2006

US Airways Group Inc. yesterday launched an $8 billion bid for Delta Air Lines Inc., a move that would create the nation's largest carrier and possibly trigger other airline mergers in an industry recovering from a major downturn.

US Airways chief executive Doug Parker said combining carriers would boost profit and substantially cut costs by eliminating overlapping work and flights. Parker, who is credited with helping to successfully merge US Airways and America West in 2005, said he wanted to take advantage of Delta's status in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. If he waited until after the carrier exited bankruptcy, it would be harder to jettison unneeded Delta aircraft, he said.

"It's a unique opportunity to create a significant amount of value," Parker said in an interview.

Topping the list of potential obstacles is Delta's management, which isn't excited about any merger. Chief executive Gerald Grinstein sent a memo to employees later in the day, saying he didn't want Delta to emerge from bankruptcy protection as a "merged, acquired or otherwise consolidated airline."

The new airline would retain the Delta name and offer more seats than any other airline in the nation, surpassing the current leader, American Airlines, US Airways executives said. Its network would extend from New York to Phoenix and abroad. Delta would become the top airline, serving 155 domestic airports and 350 destinations worldwide, the executives said.

It is not known which frequent-flier program the new company would retain -- US Airways is a member of the Star Alliance network, and Delta is a partner in SkyTeam, both extensive partnerships involving foreign carriers.

Although US Airways executives said they would not stop flying to any cities served by either carrier, they said the merger would allow them to cut about 10 percent of the two airlines' flights. The new airline would be able to cut costs by flying fewer aircraft with more passengers, the executives said.

"We would also benefit from reducing service to some underperforming markets and discontinuing some unprofitable" routes, Parker said in a conference call with analysts.

With the reduction in flights, the number of cheap fares offered by the combined airline on many routes would decline and the average ticket price would increase, experts said.

"Fares will go up a little bit because there will be less overall competition," said Michael MacNair, author of "Smooth Landings," a book on managing business travel. He added that business travelers are nervous about the deal because they "don't want to shoulder the burden of higher ticket prices because competition goes away."

US Airways stock soared yesterday in reaction to the bid, closing up 16.8 percent, to $59.46 a share on the New York Stock Exchange. Delta shares closed at $1.52, up 3.4 percent, and its distressed bonds jumped in value and were among the most actively traded corporate debt issues yesterday.

Most analysts seemed enthusiastic about the proposal, saying they welcomed the idea of consolidation in the industry. Airline executives, including the chief executive of United Airlines, have said the industry needs to shrink to remain competitive. Among other possible merger targets, analysts mentioned United, American, Continental and Northwest airlines.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company