Below, we’ve put the opening language in US Airways’ response to the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit attack the carrier’s merger with American Airlines. And below it you’ll find a link to the full response.
This merger will greatly enhance competition and provide immense benefits to the traveling public. Combined, US Airways and American Airlines will offer more and better travel options for passengers through an improved domestic and international network, something that neither carrier could provide on its own. Millions more passengers each year will fly on this new network than would fly on US Airways and American, should they be forced to remain separate. Conservative estimates place the net benefits to consumers at more than $500 million annually. Simply put, from the perspective of consumers, the new American will be uch greater than the sum of its parts. This merger will be procompetitive and lawful. Plaintiffs’ request for this Court to enjoin the merger should be summarily denied.
It is ironic that plaintiffs fixate on maintaining the number of “legacy” carriers—those airlines that, prior to 1978, endured the well-documented failure of federal regulation of routes and fares—because those carriers are by most relevant measures the least financially successful companies in the industry. The oversight of the federal government left legacy carriers saddled with route and cost structures ill-suited to meeting the evolving consumer demand of the day, much less the radically different consumer demand of the 21st century economy. The 35 years since deregulation have painted a vivid picture, completely absent from the Complaint, of the excruciatingly painful process of reshaping these airlines to better respond to consumer demand. The post-deregulation history of legacy carriers is one of staggering financial loss, dozens of bankruptcies, hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, dramatic reductions in employee pay and benefits, and painful restructuring.
The Complaint’s focus on legacy airlines causes it to ignore the most meaningful competitive development in the airline industry since deregulation: the emergence of low cost carriers. Southwest, which in 1978 was an oddity limited to intrastate flying in Texas, is now the country’s largest domestic airline, carrying more passengers last year than any legacy carrier and more than US Airways and American combined. Other low cost carriers, including JetBlue, Spirit Airlines, Virgin America, Sun Country, and Allegiant, are expanding at dramatic rates. These carriers, together with Southwest and regional competitors Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, now transport over 40% of all domestic passengers, and that share continues to grow. The demonstrable success of low cost carriers is a market driven response to consumer demand, but the Complaint inexplicably ignores their profound and permanent effect on industry competition.
The other potent market response to consumer demand ignored by the Complaint is the evolution of the industry through mergers. Since 1978, there have been over a dozen mergers involving legacy carriers as the fares paid by passengers fell substantially in real terms. Most recently Delta merged with Northwest (2008) and United with Continental (2010) as those firms—each of which had been reorganized in bankruptcy during the last decade—combined complementary assets to create networks better able to respond to consumer demand. The government approval of these two mergers created airlines with much larger and more comprehensive networks than either American or US Airways, leaving both American and US Airways at a competitive disadvantage which cannot be overcome on a standalone basis.
It is in this vigorously competitive world that US Airways and American Airlines seek to merge so that they can provide similar benefits to customers and have the chance to compete with the new Delta and new United. Taken separately, each of US Airways and American is incomplete. American has a weaker presence for traffic moving up and down the East Coast, US Airways is weaker in the Midwest, and both are relatively weaker on the West Coast. Without geographically strategic hubs and efficient and convenient connections from those hubs, American and US Airways cannot effectively appeal to travelers going to or from, or traveling within, these critical regions, and they necessarily lose business to the more complete networks that Delta and United offer. Together, US Airways and American will create an effective third competitor for that business and, in doing so, increase competition. It is the Complaint—by interposing the heavy hand of federal and state regulation—which will lessen competition by precluding the market from creating new and competitive flight options for passengers.
Plaintiffs argue that the merger is not necessary because “American is fully capable of emerging from bankruptcy proceedings on its own” and “US Airways today is competing vigorously.” That view, of course, is not relevant to the antitrust analysis before the Court. Moreover, the statistics provided in the Complaint focus on only very recent industry performance, during one of the few brief periods when the airlines turned a profit, and ignore the competitive landscape and extreme volatility of the airline business. The harsh reality is that over the last twelve years American lost $10.3 billion and US Airways lost $3.4 billion. US Airways filed for bankruptcy twice during that period and without the merger with America West Airlines would have liquidated. American filed for bankruptcy in November 2011, lost $1.9 billion in 2012, and remains in bankruptcy today. Blocking the merger will not sharpen competition—it will prolong this cycle of crisis to the detriment of passengers, the employees of American and US Airways, and the communities the airlines serve.
The merger with US Airways is the foundation of American’s reorganization plan for growth and expansion, and is its only extant plan to emerge from bankruptcy. Thousands of new routes will be created simply by combining the two airlines. These new routes will offer travelers the convenience of more flight options to fit their schedule; offer flights with fewer connections to both domestic and global destinations; and offer passengers in smaller communities better access to the rest of the country and world. In addition to these benefits, the new American will grow its capacity and output, purchasing new aircraft and improving its airport services. In short, the combined network will offer passengers more opportunities to fly where they want to go, when they want to go, and how they want to go.
This growth will spur competition. The combined network can go head-to-head with United and Delta while competing vigorously against the rest of the industry, both domestically and abroad. The potential harms are minimal; American and US Airways directly compete on only 17 of the nearly 900 nonstop city pairs that the carriers now serve, and on almost all of these routes face nonstop competition from other carriers. Indeed, across the industry, the low cost carriers offer strong competitive choices built on diverse business models, and play the role of industry “maverick” in a way that no legacy airline ever has or could. In every relevant aspect, this merger is more procompetitive than those previously approved by the government.
The Court’s review of the plaintiffs’ challenge to this merger should not be an evaluation of the few aspects of the intensely competitive airline industry plaintiffs do not like, or a comparison to some hypothetical state of the airline industry that plaintiffs would prefer. It must be a determination of whether this airline merger would result in a “substantial lessening of competition” relative to what would happen absent the merger. But rather than considering how this merger will create robust competition in the future, or how blocking the merger will impede competitive forces, plaintiffs rely on rhetoric and innuendo. The Complaint makes broad, unsupported claims about past industry coordination and cobbles together out-of-context statements in an effort to suggest by anecdote what the plaintiffs cannot support with analysis. This skewed and incomplete focus ignores the current realities of the airline industry. Detailed evidence will show that this merger is about growth and improved competition—a bigger network, new flight options, more jobs, and millions of additional customers each year who will choose the more competitive new American.
The full US Airways response is here: US Airways answer to complaint, Sept. 10, 2013
Copyrite: Dallas Morning Sun 2013