The dominoes that were supposed to fall in response to a Delta/Northwest airline merger may stand. Other carriers had tentatively talked combinations that they would pursue had the number three Delta done a deal with number four Northwest, but in the wake of a virtual veto of that transaction by Delta’s pilots, they are expected to stand alone. United Airlines, where chairman Glenn Tilton has been urging industry consolidation for several years, was widely believed to be in tentative talks with Continental. It had no immediate comment. Delta has declined to comment in any detail on its strategic plan, but says a special committee formed to consider mergers or other major initiatives is still active. Delta president and chief financial officer Ed Bastian is expected to shed some light on the carrier’s thinking and plans when he addresses investors at a JPMorgan conference in New York on Tuesday mid-day.
One noted observer said he expects Delta to concentrate on trimming its network and internal steps rather than a merger to cut costs. “We may just have been saved by the bell and the price of oil. Consolidation is going to come and should, but perhaps this deal just was not do-able,” said William S. Swelbar, director of the MIT Airline Project.
Swelbar said he would not rule out another possible deal by Delta.
Lee Moak, chairman of Delta’s Master Executive Council (MEC) of the Air Line Pilots Association, told members after declaring the Northwest deal undoable, “So what happens next? Quite frankly, the answer to that question is unclear... Delta’s senior executive team and the Delta Board of Directors decide the direction of the company, and that direction may or may not include consolidation..."
He continued, "It remains the firm belief of the Delta MEC that pilot involvement before a final decision in any consolidation option is absolutely essential, and your MEC will continue to communicate this to the Delta Board of Directors and the senior executive team. Nevertheless, in the event of any corporate merger announcement, we will retain our rights to seek to shape, or if we deem appropriate, oppose a transaction.”