AIN Blog: Airline Unions, Boeing at Odds over USAir-AA Merger

 - April 27, 2012, 11:10 AM
American Airlines workers rally in New York City on April 23.
American Airlines workers rally in New York City on April 23. (Photo:TWU)

While far from inevitable, the proposed merger of US Airways and American Airlines seems to have garnered support from virtually everyone who matters but the management of bankrupt AA itself. US Airways has gone as far as to reach agreements in principle with all three of American’s main labor unions, promised to save some 6,200 jobs and issued estimates of $1.2 billion in so-called synergy value should American accept an offer from the Phoenix-based airline.

At face value, consolidation seems to make sense for American’s shareholders, its employees and even many of the cities that stand to lose service from AA’s planned withdrawal.

But as US Airways CEO Doug Parker reminded employees, “many more things must happen,” perhaps the most important centering on gaining the approval of American’s creditors’ committee.

Apparently US Airways has already approached the committee, which includes the unions, bondholders, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., and two rather influential OEMs—Airbus and Boeing. A mainly Airbus operator, US Airways would be buying a mainly Boeing operator. But one must wonder how much influence Boeing might wield over the entire process considering the apparently cool reception the company’s chairman and CEO, Jim McNerney, has shown for the idea of a merger before American emerges from Chapter 11.

Some speculate that a merged company run mainly by current US Airways management would benefit Airbus. American holds orders for 260 A320s and 200 Boeing 737s and many more options for the Airbus airplanes than for the Boeing narrowbodies. Perhaps, the thinking goes, the company’s new management would favor Airbus—as US Airways has in the past—in any future fleet acquisition.

McNerney wouldn’t show much concern about that potential this week during the company’s first-quarter earnings call, however. “We’ll confront whatever environment we find,” said McNerney. “American is working through the process now and we support them emerging from this thing as a stronger airline. If, at that point, a merger makes sense to the two managements of the company, we’ll support that as well.”    

Still, McNerney’s clear preference for American’s emergence from Chapter 11 as a standalone entity could pit corporate influences on the creditors’ committee not only against each other, but against labor as well. Whatever the outcome, the whole situation seems sure to make for some compelling observation.