Why Arizona Might Not Mess With American Airlines

Texas has become the first state to settle with US Airways (NYSE: LCC  ) and American Airlines parent company AMR (UNKNOWN: AAMRQ.DL  ) in the airline merger case. But observers always expected that the new airline would remain in Fort Worth, sparing Texas from major job and service cuts. Yet the state US Airways calls home is also part of the lawsuit -- and officials there quite likely have a different perspective.

Arizona: US Airways headquarters
The settlement in Texas was helped by the merged airlines' plans to make Fort Worth their new headquarters. But Arizona's likely suing for the same reason: the threat this merger would pose to US Airways' operations at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport and to the airline's headquarters in Tempe, Ariz. Sitting between the highly popular Los Angeles airport, where American Airlines has substantial operations, and the newly merged airlines' Fort Worth headquarters, it's easy to envision the new airline reducing service to Phoenix.

But not everyone agrees that the new American would forget about Phoenix. The Centre for Aviation cites a higher percentage of Phoenix's passengers as origin-to-destination passengers than in Dallas or Los Angeles. This carries a particular significance since it implies that many of the passengers using the Phoenix airport actually have Phoenix as either their origin or final destination and that shifting all of these operations to Los Angeles and Dallas would not serve this market segment. The Centre further notes strong demand for business travel among Phoenix area employers.

However, a past airline merger presents a more pessimistic scenario. When Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL  ) merged with Northwest Airlines in 2008, it made many of the same promises as US Airways and American Airlines. But service to Delta's Cincinnati hub has substantially dropped off as operations shift to Northwest's Detroit hub. And while Cincinnati at least maintained its hub status, Delta steadily shrank the former Northwest hub of Memphis until the airport lost its hub status a few months ago.

These moves have allowed Delta to better set up its operations and build a more economical route network. But Arizona likely cares about far more than the new American Airlines' bottom line, which may mean that any settlement with the state will require more concessions from the airlines. 

Evolution of a settlement
If Arizona state officials are trying to extract some major concessions from the airlines, the merger lawsuit is a good place to start. For guidance on possible solutions, look to the agreement between United Airlines, Continental Airlines, and Ohio officials.

Concerned about service to the Cleveland airport, Ohio officials got the new United Continental to agree to continue service at 90% for at least two years and maintain Cleveland's hub status. Any settlement reached in Arizona will likely include provisions for maintaining a certain level of service to Phoenix and the airport's hub status.

While the new American Airlines Group may have otherwise wanted to cut more from Phoenix to reduce costs, concessions forcing the airline to maintain service to Phoenix should not be a deal breaker. We've already seen from the Centre for Aviation that Phoenix does carry with it certain advantages. Furthermore, it is still quite possible that the airline will be allowed to slightly reduce Phoenix service to right-size operations similar to how the concessions in Ohio mandated that United Continental retain only 90% of its Cleveland service. By being allowed to drop a small percentage of service, the new American would be able to select the least economical routes while retaining the ones more to the airline's advantage. Therefore, I would still view a settlement on these terms with the state of Arizona as a positive sign for advancing the merger.

Headquarter states
Although both Arizona and Texas have one party in this airline merger based in their state, the outlooks without concessions are very different. While Texas wanted to protect what would become the merged airlines' new headquarters, Arizona may lose a major airport hub unless the airlines grant it concessions.

Therefore, a settlement with Arizona is still possible. However, it will almost certainly come with conditions that the new American Airlines Group still provide a significant level of service to the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Investors should continue to monitor which other states reach settlements with the airlines to get a better feel for how out-of-court developments are going.

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Editors Note: article previously stated Dallas was the headquarters of the airline. This has been corrected to Fort Worth. The Motley Fool apologizes for and regrets this error. 


Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (2)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2013, at 1:28 PM, jetfuel1 wrote:

    American Airlines is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, NOT Dallas.

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2013, at 1:45 PM, gene4655 wrote:

    Please, please, if you want to be accurate, correct your several statements in this article that American Airlines "wants to remain in Dallas," their plans to "make Dallas their new Headquarters..." American Airlines started in Fort Worth, their headquarters has been in Fort Worth for many years, and their headquarters will remain in Fort Worth. Yes, that's near Dallas, but IT ISN'T DALLAS!

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2013, at 3:12 PM, Tyeward wrote:

    PHX is a metro area of over 4 million people. Arizonas GDP is a little over 197 Billion dollars and the economic epicenter of that is PHX. Instead of pinning down the carrier with any agreements, it would be far better to provide incentive for the carrier to stay. The best way to do that is to make it worth their while. Pushing the issue to award more corporate contracts is a good idea since quite a bit of business flows in and out of PHX. Regardless of that, PHX is a top 10 city in the U.S and a top 20 metro area. It´s also a very good relief hub capable of far more expansion than LAX is able to do. Most people claim that PHX would be the weakest of all the hubs in the combined network of US and AA, however I doubt that Doug Parker would be willing to give up ground at PHX in favor of competition expanding there. There will be some shifting around and that´s to be expected, however I don´t see PHX going the way of Memphis, Cincinatti, St. Louis, and Pittsburg. PHX will still have significant merit to the combined network. DFW is a big airport however both can exist in the combined network quite nicely. All in all, as long as PHX continues to turn a profit, it´s pretty much safe.

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2013, at 7:15 PM, vushy33 wrote:

    anybody with jan brewer as governer isnt worth a breath of air she is a moran

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2013, at 9:02 PM, AllenElliott wrote:

    I am an American flyer and would much rather fly through Phioenex then Dallas.

  • Report this Comment On October 03, 2013, at 9:05 PM, AllenElliott wrote:

    I am an American flyer and would much rather fly through Phoenix then Dallas, when I fly north to Portland or Seattle.

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