WASHINGTON — The acquisition of American Airlines by either of two competitors could result in a negative outlook for small to medium-sized airports, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday.
Both Delta Airlines and US Airways are reportedly considering acquisitions of AMR, American Airlines’ parent company, which filed for bankruptcy in November. If either merger takes place, the result would probably be reduced passenger volume and a negative implication for airport credit ratings, according to Moody’s.
The airports most affected by any acquisition of American by Delta or US Airways would be smaller facilities heavily served by both American and the acquiring airline, although some larger airports would also feel the effects.
That’s because the newly expanded acquiring airline wouldn’t need to keep serving the same routes as American and would be likely to consolidate routes, Moody’s said. Under a merger with Delta, that would include Atlanta-Hartsfield Jackson International Airport, Des Moines International Airport in Iowa, Huntsville International Airport in Alabama, and the Jackson Municipal Airport Authority in Mississippi. Under a US Airways merger, airports most likely to be affected would be Piedmont Triad Airport and Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, and Philadelphia International Airport.
Some of American Airlines’ biggest hubs are well-armored against this concern because of their size, Moody’s said.
“While certain American hubs, such as Chicago O’Hare and Dallas-Fort Worth serve cities large enough to support multiple carriers, smaller city airports with overlapping markets and routes are apt to see greater effects,” analysts said.
Another issue addressed in Moody’s analysis of a potential merger is the considerable competitive advantage Delta especially would reap by acquiring American’s assets. If Delta did, it and its rival United Airlines would combine to control over 50% of U.S. passenger air traffic.
“This large concentration in the industry would give the major players more bargaining power, which could mean service cutbacks at certain airports, as well as higher fees and fares,” Moody’s said.
Jane Calderwood, vice president for government and political affairs at Airports Council International’s North America division, agreed that a lack of competition could be a worrisome factor in driving fees up. The industry saw an effect similar to the Moody’s projection following the Delta-Northwest Airlines merger in 2008, she said. “Airports are always concerned about that,” Calderwood said. “We saw with Delta-Northwest, that hurt a number of airports.”
Neither Delta nor US Airways has officially announced plans to acquire AMR, which has a minimum of 120 days to submit a plan of reorganization. Any acquisition would need to get clearance from the federal government. Moody’s said US Airways would have the edge there.
“If a merger with US Airways materializes, American’s airport hubs could have fewer problems passing through the Department of Justice guidelines since the concentration would be smaller than a merger with Delta,” Moody’s said.