AMR to divest its Eagle unit

 - December 28, 2007, 7:45 AM

AMR has begun planning the divestiture of its American Eagle regional subsidiary amid calls for asset sales by shareholders disenchanted with the company’s recent stock market performance. Although AMR doesn’t attribute the decision directly to pressure from investors, the November 28 announcement immediately preceded a 6.9-percent jump in share price. However, the climb proved temporary, as shares fell again in the following weeks, at press time closing down more than 30 percent on the year.

The divestiture, planned for sometime this year, might include a spin-off to AMR shareholders, a sale to a third party or some other form of separation, according to the company. “The completion of any transaction and its timing will depend on a number of factors, including general economic, industry and financial market conditions, as well as the ultimate form of the divestiture,” said AMR in a statement.

The sale would include the assets of Executive Airlines, which flies as American Eagle in the Bahamas and the Caribbean from bases in Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico. All told, the assets involve 25 Bombardier CRJ700s, 206 Embraer ERJ 135s and 145s, 39 ATR 72s and 30 Saab 340s.

A relatively old fleet by regional standards, its newest members arrived in 2004, when Embraer agreed to cancel delivery of Eagle’s last 18 ERJ 145s, scheduled to arrive between July 2005 and February 2006. Over the past two years Eagle has seen little growth in traffic, mainly because it flies only on behalf of American Airlines.

“The decision comes after a careful and deliberate evaluation of the strategy that will best enable us to continue to create value for our shareholders,” said AMR chairman and CEO Gerard Arpey. “We have worked hard over the years to build
a regional airline that is fully capable of standing on its own and is well positioned to pursue growth opportunities outside the AMR corporate structure.”

Although AMR doesn’t segregate American Eagle’s financials in its quarterly reports, it said it expected the unit to account for $2.3 billion in revenues last year. By the end of November it boarded 19.6 million passengers–some 0.9 percent fewer than it boarded during the first 11 months of 2006. Available seat miles declined by 0.2 percent and revenue passenger miles dropped by 0.5 percent, resulting in a 73.7 percent load factor–down 0.3 points from a year earlier.

Fearing the eventual break-up of the airline after American Airlines CFO Tom Horton spoke publicly about a need to cut costs by offering multiple regional airlines American’s business, American Eagle’s pilot group didn’t take the news well.

“Mr. Horton’s statements are irresponsible and cavalier. Splitting up Eagle flying would be a deal killer to our pilots,” said the chairman of ALPA’s American Eagle division, Herb Mark. “Our pilots do not want a return to the Eagle of the mid-1990s when four carriers made up Eagle and pilots were pitted against each other with no clear-cut work rules, different collective bargaining agents and a lack of operational consistency.”