American Airlines Bankruptcy: ‘Vultures’ are Circling the Industry ‘Plum’

The news of the last day about the American Airlines bankruptcy says that three suitors are eyeing bids for the carrier: Delta Airlines, U.S. Airways, and TPG Capital (which is not itself an airline but has invested in airlines in the past). American has been called the “last plum” available for those looking to get into the industry in a big way.

Delta: It’s the second-largest airline in the country, and conventional wisdom is that the prospects of the Department of Justice giving antitrust approval to the second-largest airline and the third-largest airline (American) merging is “remote,” as an analyst told the Star-Telegram.  But the Wall Street Journal today has itself a chart that says it could “maybe” happen. Combined, American and Delta would have 35% of the market. That sounds like a lot. However, “the Department of Justice has historically focused on individual routes when assessing competition effects, rather than overall concentration. So while a combined Delta-American would almost certainly have to make concessions in New York and across the Atlantic, the DoJ might not block the deal out of hand.”  Some analysts told Businessweek that Delta’s interest is just meant to disrupt the AMR bankruptcy: “It’s a cynical ploy to disrupt others, to confuse the process and make it more difficult.”

U.S. Airways: Slate says this is the best option from a passenger’s point of view: “a patriotic merger between American and US Air which would give the United States three really big global carriers–United, Delta, and US/American–with the merged entity ideally joining the OneWorld alliance so we’d have strong representation in each of the three major global airline alliances.”  U.S. Airways is the smallest of the traditional air carriers, and the aforementioned WSJ chart says its merger with American would control 23% of the market, which is about the level where United-Continental are now, so DOJ approval seems likelier. The reporters for the Dow Jones News Service write that the coupling would do more of U.S. Airways than for American: “Tying up with AMR would bring it a rich Latin American portfolio, and a larger European network and a towering frequent-flier plan.”

TPG Capital: An MIT researcher tells the Star-Telegram that TPG would be a “friend of American.” The firm is looking for a “strategic partner” to invest in AMR. They’ve helped other airlines out of bankruptcy in the past.

Meanwhile it appears that American’s leadership prefers to restructure and find their own way out. You know, by doing things like breaking their promises to employees because they intentionally underfunded their obligations, as the government allowed them to do:

Pension beneficiaries will bear the brunt of the pension underfunding if AMR defaults. As a former Mercer consultant tells the Journal: “It allowed them to make promises they knew would be difficult to keep… It’s not fair to the employees.”