US Airways-Delta Deal Would Cut Flights at 25 Airports

Travelers in at least two dozen Eastern and Southeastern cities would see their air travel options significantly reduced by a merger between US Airways and Delta Air Lines.

According to a USA TODAY analysis of airline data from Back Aviation Solutions, a merged carrier would have 50% or more of the scheduled capacity in 111 markets in the USA. That's up from 55 markets for US Airways and 31 markets for Delta. Both carriers are strong in the East and South, so not surprisingly, many of the communities that would see the biggest loss of choice are there, too.

The analysis follows a bid Wednesday by US Airways to acquire Delta Air Lines for $4 billion in cash and for stock valued at about $4.7 billion. US Airways is seeking to acquire its bigger rival out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. If successful, the merged airline would eclipse American as the world's largest.

Delta management has been resistant to any takeover bid, and says it prefers to emerge from bankruptcy reorganization next year as an independent carrier. Delta CEO Gerald Grinstein had previously rejected two private approaches from his counterpart at US Airways, Doug Parker.

The proposed deal would require approval from the bankruptcy court, federal antitrust officials and US Airways shareholders.

The USA TODAY analysis combines the number of seats currently offered by both carriers at airports across the country to identify areas of greatest impact. US Airways officials have said that the "New Delta" would trim current capacity by about 10%. It also plans to divest one of two Boston-New York-Washington, D.C., shuttles operated by US Airways and Delta.

According to the analysis:

*Six Eastern airports that now have competition would be served exclusively by the combined airline: Wilmington and Fayetteville, N.C.; Florence, S.C.; Huntington, W.Va.; Lynchburg, Va.; and Augusta, Ga.

*In 25 Eastern and Southern airports, where neither carrier now provides more than 50% of the service, the combined carrier would become dominant by providing more than half of the capacity. Among them: Asheville and Greensboro, N.C., and Charleston, S.C., Mobile, Ala., and Richmond, Va.

*Travelers in the carriers' respective hub markets in the East wouldn't see their choices diminish much. Delta already has 73% at Atlanta. A merger would nudge up that share by a percentage point. At Charlotte, where US Airways' capacity share is now 88%, the combined carrier would have 90%.

Additionally, US Airways says that "New Delta" would rank as the No. 2 carrier in the Pacific Northwest, No. 3 in the Southwest and California, and No. 4 in the central USA.

It's not clear that the proposed merger would reduce competition enough for the U.S. Justice Department to oppose it on antitrust grounds. In fact, it's not certain that US Airways' bid to buy Delta will even get that far.

If it does, says Mark Schechter, an antitrust attorney at the Howrey firm in Washington, D.C., "I would see a pretty extensive investigation."

The last two big reviews of proposed airline combinations were challenged by the Justice Department because of its concerns about market concentration, says Schechter, a top attorney in the antitrust division in the 1980s.

A separate analysis Thursday by JPMorgan analysts Jamie Baker and Mark Streeter identifies six big markets where the merged airline would move from "moderate" to "high" in market concentration under a measure used by antitrust regulators. They are New York/Newark; San Francisco; Washington; Las Vegas; Seattle; and Boston.

US Airways officials began addressing potential concerns about market concentrations right out of the box on Wednesday. CEO Parker, in a conference call with analysts, stressed that last year's acquisition by America West, his old company, of then-bankrupt US Airways led to an average 24% drop in fares. Growth if airlines get together

How a combined US Airways-Delta would rank in size by region:

Rank based on total miles that all airline seats are flown

Source: US Airways

U.S. airports where Delta and US Airways each has less than half the capacity, but where the combined airline would have more than 50%

Airport Delta US Airways Combined

Asheville, N.C 41% 35% 77%

Wilkes-Barre, Pa. 26% 48% 74%

Chattanooga, Tenn. 43% 28% 71%

Charleston, S.C. 37% 34% 71%

Charleston. W.Va. 28% 39% 67%

Savannah, Ga. 48% 18% 67%

State College, Pa. 23% 44% 66%

Binghamton, N.Y. 17% 49% 66%

Roanoke, Va. 25% 38% 63%

Greensboro, N.C. 30% 31% 62%

Huntsville, Ala. 42% 19% 61%

Bangor, Maine 39% 21% 60%

Erie, Pa. 15% 44% 58%

Reagan Washington, D.C.15% 43% 58%

Columbia, S.C. 34% 24% 58%

Mobile, Ala. 44% 14% 58%

Pensacola, Fla. 48% 9% 57%

Myrtle Beach, S.C. 21% 36% 57%

Lexington, Ky. 44% 12% 56%

Greenville, S.C. 31% 25% 56%

Portland, Maine 24% 32% 55%

Allentown, Pa. 18% 35% 53%

Knoxville, Tenn. 34% 19% 52%

Richmond, Va. 25% 26% 51%

Harrisburg, Pa. 16% 34% 50%

Note: Based on scheduled seats on flights departing each airport this month. Does not take into account anticipated cutbacks by a merged airline.

Source: USA TODAY analysis of OAG data provided by Back Aviation Solutions.

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